One of the most successful programs to come out of the Mike Curb Institute for Music at Rhodes, The Audubon Sessions, makes its television debut in 2017 on public, educational, and government (PEG) cable access stations in cities throughout the country. In total, the show will be broadcast on at least 23 stations stretching from California to Massachusetts as the result of the joint efforts of Rhodes students and an alumna from Nashville.
Created in 2012 by student fellows working with Dr. John Bass, director of the Curb Institute, The Audubon Sessions is a concert series hosted at Elvis Presley’s first purchased home, 1034 Audubon Drive in east Memphis. Artists, including singers Rosanne Cash and Valerie June, bluesman Bobby Rush, jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd, and hip-hop artist PreauXX, perform in the intimate house setting and discuss their careers and life journeys. Students work in conjunction with community partners and professionals, such as Rhodes alumna Phoebe Driscoll '15, to film the concerts, conduct the interviews with the artists, edit the footage into a final product for their website (audubonsessions.org), and promote the series to wider audiences.
Formerly called An Evening at Elvis’, the series’ current rebrand is being led by Curb fellows Ashley Dill ’17 and Alexandra Greenway ’17. Dill, an urban studies major and a film studies minor, handles booking, marketing, business, and branding for the series, and Greenway, a theater major, is in charge of filming and artistic direction. This past summer, Dill and Greenway worked with Trish Crist ’90, CEO of the show’s sponsoring PEG station, Nashville Education, Community, and Arts Television (NECAT), to develop the popular concert series into The Audubon Sessions. “We inherited this project, and were given the freedom to take it where we thought it could go,” Greenway recalls. “And now, with this new rebranding process, we’ve really had an opportunity to put our stamp on the project.”
The decision to rebrand the show came at a critical moment in deciding the program’s path going forward. With the TV release secured, Dill says, “The stakes are higher now, because we’ve put ourselves on the map a little more in terms of the TV launch and with the high-caliber artists involved. The rebrand was more a choice of, ‘Is this a project about Elvis or does the story of Elvis inspire students to create and produce the series?' And I think answering that question was the motive behind making it not quite as Elvis-centered. Even though the story of Elvis' home is integral to the project, the effort and purpose of the house concerts and resulting television series are more about students sharing the music and stories of artists with audiences in Memphis and beyond."
During their summer in Nashville, Dill and Greenway were connected to a variety of expert mentors in the entertainment industry. The two Curb fellows, who both plan to pursue careers in entertainment after graduation, gained hands-on experience while they built the program. Dill says, “Being in Nashville, which has such a heavy entertainment industry, we were able not only to promote The Audubon Sessions, but also make personal connections that will help us in our own careers.”
Reflecting on the experience, Greenway says, “Ashley and I work together really well. She could say to me, ‘Hey, I need a 30-second trailer edited by next weekend,’ and then I would create something that I thought was cool and conveyed the show well. She gave me deadlines and important messages, and I came up with how they were presented. We co-strategize and act as different sides of the equation.”
For now, Greenway and Dill hope to continue helping the program in any way they can, before graduating in the spring. “Ashley and I both understand the honor and importance of being able to lead the project,” adds Greenway. “We take it very seriously, and we love what we do.”
By Kenneth Piper ’17
Update: Jan. 27, 2017. The Audubon Sessions will debut on NECAT Sunday, Jan. 29, at 4:30 p.m. on Channel 9 (Comcast) in Davidson County, Tenn. and Channel 99 (AT&T) in Middle Tennessee. The episodes can also be viewed online via NECAT's Music City Arts website at http://www.necatnetwork.org/music-city-arts. The episodes will re-air on Mondays at 10 p.m. and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m.