with YOUR Southern Gentleman, Johnny Birdson
I have said before that we are all blessed to be in such an amazing community, and I feel it’s the people that make Williamson County what it is. The broad range of these wonderful people also make it unique and special.
Our SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN for September is Mr. Kevin Griffin, best known as band member of Better Than Ezra, and as a co-founder of upcoming local Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival. I recently had the chance to get to know Kevin better and talk about his own pilgrimage.
Photography by Robby Klein
JB: Kevin, you have had quite an impressive and wonderful life to this point...
KG: I get to do what I dreamed about as a kid - to have a career in music; to play it and I even get to write it. I get to help produce festivals and work with other artists in the music industry and it really is a blessing.
JB: How did your journey begin with the music industry?
KG: You know, I was just that kid always playing music and I started in elementary school with a little band, playing talent shows and parties. Then, it turned into playing more parties through high school and ultimately being part of a college band. We were playing all these SEC schools and after I graduated LSU, Better Than Ezra was performing together when I decided I might go to law school! But instead, I decided to give this post college phase three years to see if the music would take off. Those three years came and went, and we still weren’t signed and I kind of realized – ok I better be in it for the long haul. And it paid off. The band got together in 1988 but it wasn’t until 1995 when a major label picked us up and suddenly this regional band that was a big deal in the southeast, became a national and worldwide success.
JB: Man! You have worked with some amazing folks, including Taylor Swift and Sugarland. But then the name Meatloaf popped up and I was blown away!
KG: He was the first person I ever co-wrote with. It was in 2002 and we were in the same studio, when he heard one of my songs coming through the walls that he liked. He asked me to write a song with him and of course, it was just the coolest thing ever that this legendary entertainer wanted to write with me! It really set me on my path to writing songs for other people.
JB: What’s the biggest obstacle that you’ve overcome in your years as being an artist?
KG: I think the biggest obstacle is settling. You know, getting stuck in a routine. In any career you just get stuck in a rut when you do things the same way. Even when it’s worked for you most of the time, most people find out that sometimes what has always worked for them doesn’t work quite as well as it used to. Hitting that point is what the book is about, the desire to discover new things and to continue mixing it up and be able to be re-inspired, be able to stay nimble – which in my case, has led to being able to be competitive and successful.
JB: How long have you lived in Williamson County and what do you love about it?
KG: I moved to downtown Franklin in December of 2010. I’m from the South. I was born in Atlanta. I grew up in Louisiana. After Katrina, in 2005, I lived for several years in Los Angeles. I lived in LA after graduating LSU in the 90s and I was doing a lot of song writing then and just missing the South. I could
already see in 2010, that the Nashville and Williamson County areas especially, were going to have a moment. It was just all these things aligning in my life, and so, I saw this beautiful home in Franklin, and I was like: This is a no brainer! We have got to jump on it! I love being able to walk downtown alongside these historic buildings and cool shops, all with such a hometown feel but still a cosmopolitan feel as well. It’s the best of both worlds.
JB: What do you feel are your biggest achievements both in work and personally?
KG: I think my biggest achievement is my kids. I love my kids, that’s an easy one. Professionally, I think that maybe for me the thing that I’m most proud about is that I’ve been able to keep a career going in this business and it’s all based on not quitting because nothing came easy to me or my bands. Nothing fell into our laps, and we were told no so many times. But what I have learned is that if you don’t quit you might get a chance to be successful. But if you quit you definitely don’t have a chance.
JB: Your book The Greatest Song, looks so intriguing. Tell me more about it.
KG: The book came out of my giving speeches to different corporate groups about creativity and what I do to stay creative. That work took off for me when I gave speeches to Nike, Google and Salesforce groups and I decided to turn those presentations into a book. I wrote this book and I got to tell the story about a CMA successful Nashville songwriter who, at a crossroads professionally and personally, reveals what happens to him. It is fanciful and is phrase crazy but it’s fun and so I think it’s a good read. People seem to be getting a lot out of it!
JB: What are you most proud of with the growth of the Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival?
KG: What I am most proud of is that it’s become part of people’s lives. I think that just like what I’ve learned with writing a song; it starts off with your own idea, then if you’re lucky, it becomes bigger than that. Like when a song that I’ve written suddenly becomes part of someone’s life. It’s memories; it’s a soundtrack; it’s a wedding; it’s a road trip. Pilgrimage is the same thing. I wanted it to become a part of the memories of friends having a fun time. Everybody goes to your house in Franklin when it’s Pilgrimage time and eventually, you don’t even know who started it - it’s just this fun thing that brings people together and it becomes a tradition you never want to miss.
JB: And lastly, the big question: What do you feel it is to be a gentleman and how do you maintain those qualities and traits daily?
KG: First off, you have got to be lucky enough to have been taught manners and how to BE a gentleman. You know, it’s not something you’re just born with – this sense of how to be a gentleman. I was lucky enough to have parents that taught me not only manners and what it is to behave like a gentleman, but also how to have grace and strength, and the ability to say: I don’t know and I’m wrong - and to try to get better. That, for me, is what being a gentleman truly means. I love being a southerner. I like saying yes ma’am and yes sir and opening doors. I’ve lived all over the world. I’ve never met somebody that was offended if I opened the door for them.
Kevin, we can all relate to and learn from your “don’t quit” philosophy and thank you for bringing the Pilgrimage to us for us to all build our own memories. I believe good things happen to good people. Kevin Griffin - A Southern Gentleman indeed. Looking forward to your next chapter. Glad you are a part of our community.