After decades behind the scenes, award-winning songwriter Nicolle Galyon made her Nashville headlining debut at CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Nov. 1. The evening served as a celebration of Galyon’s debut album, firstborn, released in July.
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“Welcome to firstborn,” Gaylon said several songs into her hour-long set. “Welcome to opening night and closing night of my tour.
“In all seriousness, I wrote this with an audience of two in mind, and that’s [my children] Charlie and Ford Clawson. The fact that there’s more than two people here is a miracle. I’m having so much fun. I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
Galyon performed firstborn track by track with the help of her many collaborators. Producers King Henry and Jimmy Robbins assisted on guitar throughout the evening, as did frequent co-writer and recently inducted Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Hillary Lindsey. Walker Hayes, the Band Perry’s Kimberly Perry, Emily Weisband, Rodney Clawson, and Caro also shared the stage with the singer.
Galyon launched into a 15-song set with the autobiographical album opener, “winner,” and vulnerable “sunflower.” As she performed each track, videos for the songs played on the screen behind her. Two songs in she kicked off her heels and confessed, “I can’t do it, sorry.” Lindsey then joined her on stage for the tongue-in-cheek “Boy Crazy,” which they wrote with Kelsea Ballerini.
“The real win was seeing people like Hillary, Sasha [Sloan], Kelsea, and peers that are also heroes show up to sing on this record and it would not be what it is without their voices,” Galyon said. “I think songwriting is incredible and I think the songwriters in this town are some of the best singers that we have.”
While Galyon’s name was on the bill, she made time to shine the light on her collaborators. On “Consequences,” a song she wrote with Weisband, Amy Wadge, and Camila Cabello, Weisband emerged mid-song while Galyon took over on piano.
Later, she’d bring out Hayes after “tendencies,” a song where she confessed, I’m not an alcoholic but I’ve got tendencies. Hayes segued into “AA” before the pair performed “Halloween,” a song they wrote together and included on his 2017 boom. album.
“I’m a big believer that all the little things lead to all the big things,” Galyon said. “That was a little thing for him, [having me] sing on that record. Had I not, I don’t know that I ever would have had firstborn. I got to get on stage with Walker and sing that and it really helped me get over my fear of being on stage. So thank you, Walker.”
Just as Galyon praised her collaborators throughout the evening, she made a point to share the stage with up-and-coming artists. The singer, who founded the female-focused label and publishing house Songs & Daughters in 2019, had four women open the show. Tiera Kennedy, Lauren Watkins, Mackenzie Carpenter, and Carter Faith all expressed their appreciation for Galyon’s belief in them.
“We’ve all been touched by Nicolle’s magic in different ways,” Kennedy said as she kicked off the opening set writers’ round.
“She’s someone every person should look up to,” Faith added. “Nicolle is who we all want to be. … She wants to raise up the next class of female songwriters. She’s a trailblazer.”
Galyon later said the idea for firstborn started years ago when she began to think about the brevity of life.
“I started to think, ‘What if something happened to me tomorrow? What’s still left on the table?’” she said. “Or, ‘When you’re 80, what do you not want to be left on the table?’ and this record is what happened out of these thoughts. This night is also what happened out of these thoughts. … Something I’ve never done before.”
This feeling was embodied throughout Galyon’s “younger woman.” Yeah the truth is ain’t none of us living forever/ Guess that’s why I’m finally makin’ a record, she sang while Lindsey assisted on harmonies.
Galyon closed the evening with special guest Perry. “I want to end this night with that sentiment with how the whole thing started,” she said. Perry then performed a stripped-down and haunting version of 2011 CMA Single of the Year “If I Die Young.”
The pair teamed for firstborn closing track “death bed,” a poignant song about juggling motherhood and one’s career. Galyon may have written firstborn for her children, but the album has become a universal project as evidenced by the audience’s reaction to every song.
“In 2020, what I learned was that I was returning to myself,” she said. “My life has gone not according to plan in the most beautiful way.”
On Tuesday, Galyon proved that she’s much more than a songwriter and label executive: she’s also an artist.
“Thank you guys so much,” she concluded. “I just played my first show!”
Photo credit: KT Sura