Dolly Parton's voice is music to our ears, even when it's not raised in song.
The legendary performer narrates "Nashville's Next Hit," a video that pays tribute to the passion, resilience and tenacity of the city amid its efforts to recover from devastating tornadoes that struck in March and the more recent coronavirus lockdown, which has hit musicians particularly hard.
"We'll always turn our struggles into stories, and our stories into songs," Parton says in this 95-second PSA over melancholy scenes of Music City:
"We're all ready to wake up from this and get to work on writing our greatest hit yet," she says in the spot. "There's gonna be heartbreak, but there's hope too—and faith. Truth is, it's gonna take a lot more than three chords, but that's a start. Let's add a chorus a million strong. A chorus that believes in one simple thing: each other."
Parton's delivery breaks through the gloom like rays of sunshine, providing a can-do contrast with the moody monochrome images of deserted thoroughfares and storm damage. Tim McGraw's "Humble and Kind," celebrating the human spirit, plays on the soundtrack, and the film closes with the #NashvilleStrong hashtag.
Creative consultancy Genius Steals developed the spot with copywriter Matt Burch and directors Cal Quinn and Aly Fae. Entertainment management firm Em.co, whose CEO, Scott Siman, manages McGraw, provided the initial impetus for the project and helped bring Parton aboard.
"As things unfolded with the Covid virus, I quickly came to realize that this would be a disruptive event beyond anything we had ever experienced in the Nashville music industry—affecting all aspects of our business in a profound way," Siman tells Muse. "I wanted to find a message of hope with realism that would ring true to the city and the music industry."
Siman reached out to Butch Spyridon, who heads the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp., for input on producing the video. "I've seen Nashville rise to the occasion under enormously large challenges in the past, and I loved the idea of a video message during these times that would share that sentiment and speak to the future," Spyridon says. "I couldn't think of two better spokespeople than Dolly and Tim."
"Our approach was to show Nashville's favorite gathering spaces, now empty, to evoke how meaningful coming together is for us," add directors Quinn and Fae. "We've all had these incredible moments at venues like the Ryman Auditorium, for example. The way it feels to shout our favorite songs together, willfully sardined together in those pews. And all those places we gather together are now empty."
At one point, the film shows a quarter-mile stretch of idle Hemphill Bros. Coach Co. tour buses "to drive home just how hard our music industry was hit" with live shows canceled, they say.
As for Parton's participation, "she's always been about bringing people together when they need it most," says Genius Steals co-founder Rosie Yakob. "At the start of the pandemic, I was listening to Dolly's 'Light of a Clear Blue Morning' for my own daily message of hope. So when the opportunity came up to work on this project with Em.co, the pieces were all there. I just didn't know if she'd agree, if her schedule would allow for it, or if we'd even be able to get the idea in front of her."
Burch, the spot's writer, recalls: "In my first meeting with the team, Rosie threw out the name Dolly, and we all nodded and knew it had to be her. So when I started on the script, I was thinking in her voice the entire time. I'm much happier when I'm thinking in her voice. I might do that for every project now."
During remote recording, "Dolly stuck to the script," he says. "Her inflections are their own sort of improv, though, and she added a rhythm to it that we all loved."
"Nashville's Next Hit" broke last week across digital platforms, including Parton and McGraw's social feeds.
Directed by Cal & Aly
Executive Producers: Scott Siman & Rosie Siman Yakob
Production Manager: Ashley Derrington
Written by Matt Burch
Audio editing by Paul Devincenzo
Voiceover by Dolly Parton
"Humble and Kind" recorded by Tim McGraw
"Humble and Kind" written by Lori McKenna
Additional footage and support provided by Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp., Hemphill Brothers Coach, Nissan Stadium, The Ryman, Sound Emporium, & Terry Wyatt