P.E.I. singer-songwriter Kelley Mooney stands in front of Trinity United Church in Charlottetown where her new CD, "Still", was launched several months ago.
©Sally Cole/The Guardian
When P.E.I. singer-songwriter Kelley Mooney set off in her car on the morning of Nov. 15, the road ahead looked inviting.
Her tour included playing concerts in New Brunswick and in North Carolina and then driving west to visit Nashville, the home of the music industry.
But, at that point, many of the final details weren't confirmed.
So she stepped out in faith.
"I believe there's a path that has been laid out for me and this was part of it... It's something that has been given to me by God," says the singer-songwriter who was on tour in support of "Still", her new gospel CD, recorded, engineered and mixed by Jon Matthews at his studio, The Sound Mill.
Her first stop was in Minto, N.B., where she performed a concert at the Holy Rosary Church Hall.
"We had a good crowd, probably about 200 people. And I received an excellent response for my music," Mooney says.
Then it was off to North Carolina for concerts at Grove Community Church in Greensboro on Nov. 19 and St. Matthew's Roman Catholic Church in Charlotte on Nov. 23.
These were benefits for food banks or churches, where part of the proceeds would go back to the local parish.
"It was just an incredible experience. People made me feel so welcome, helping me unpack and pack my car," says Mooney, adding two-dozen roses and prayers for protection on the road as well as a beautiful portrait from a parishioner, were among the thank-you gifts she received.
Everywhere she went her songs resonated with people.
"I got a great response from one in particular. It's called, Is it Me?."
The song is about her personal struggle with alcoholism and it hit a chord with audience members.
"At least one person came up to me after each concert and told me a bit of their recovery story. Usually some tears were involved and there was always a hug at the end."
The other song that moved people was Amazing Grace.
"I do a different arrangement, and it's very ethereal. Afterwards people came up telling her it was their dad's favourite or their mum's favourite," says Mooney, who also sang it after mass at the Charlotte church.
Her journey of faith turned a journey of fun as she turned onto the western highway to Nashville.
It had always been her dream to perform at the Bluebird Café, a venue famous with both established and up-and-coming singer-songwriters.
"It was on my bucket list."
Before she left Canada she had learned that every Monday was open mike night and if artists called in at a certain time and had someone pick up the call, they would be accepted.
But, she was also told not to get her hopes up.
"This guy who answered the phone told me a girl from Nashville had been trying to get in for eight weeks without any luck."
With the music city in her sites, Mooney decided to try it anyway.
"I hit the Tennessee state line at 10:30 a.m. I hit the Tennessee welcome centre at quarter to 11. I pulled over and got out for a few minutes. Then at 11 o'clock, I got back in my car and started dialing the Bluebird Café on my cellphone. After a couple of tries, I finally got through at 11:06."
They told her that she was on the list and all they needed to know was her telephone number.
"I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it."
Realizing how difficult it was to get in, she was overcome with laughter.
"I was in my car, by myself, looking around. The first thing I did was to call my sister, Kim, and got her voice mail. Then, I called my husband, Bruce Ferguson. And he said, ‘wow, that's great.' Then I hung up my phone and started bawling.
"It took another 30 miles down the road until I was able to compose myself again."
When she finally got to Nashville, she checked into the hotel, took a shower and rehearsed the song that she was going to sing.
Then she headed to the Bluebird café, arriving in time for the 5:35 p.m. opening.
"They assigned the artists numbers, 1-25. I was number six. I did my song, The Marble Orchard," says Mooney, who was delighted when she was invited up to sing a second time.
"I was going to do one of my songs, Barn Dance. I had my guitar all tuned up, capo on."
But, in the last second, she put her guitar down and opted to sing one of her gospel songs instead.
"There was a keyboard up there and I thought, ‘I'm going to do, Is it Me?. So I went up and did it. Again, it got a really good response. Three or four people came up, tears in their eyes, to tell me their stories.
"It was an amazing experience."
Another Nashville highlight was taking in the Grand Ole Opry at the Rynman auditorium.
"I had a front row seat. The lineup was amazing. Country music star Bill Anderson gave an incredible performance."
The last act was Larry Gatlin, a member of the world-famous act, the Gatlin Brothers.
"I had this bright, red jacket and cream-coloured cords. He wasn't on stage for a minute and he looked down, pointed at me and gave me a big smile. Then, the next thing I know, he's jumping down off the stage, walking around the row of chairs right over to me and puts his hand out and starts dancing with me. I'll never forget it."
Back in Canada, Mooney is relaxing and reflecting on her journey.
"There are no borders where music is concerned. Everyone shares the same experiences to some degree and everyone can relate through a song, no matter where they're from, whether it's Nashville, North Carolina or Prince Edward Island."