The Center Presents: Adam Ollendorff
KAR Front Seat With Adam Ollendorff: Country Music Musician and Composer
Online // Monday, Mar 29, 7 p.m.
KAR Front Seat goes virtual as students chat with industry professionals. Interested in tuning in? Register for FREE at thecenterpresents.org and you will receive a Zoom link prior to March 29.
About the Presenter
Adam Ollendorff is a Nashville-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has toured and recorded with Kacey Musgraves, Will Hoge and John Oates and appeared on recordings by J.D. McPherson and Carrie Underwood. Playing guitar, Dobro and pedal steel guitar, he has shared stages with Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson and Katy Perry and appeared on the CMA Awards, the Grammy Awards, “Late Show with David Letterman” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” As a songwriter, he has collaborated with Natalie Hemby, Jim Lauderdale and Maren Morris and co-wrote the title cut of Keb’ Mo’s 2019 holiday album “Moonlight, Mistletoe & You,” which spent four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard blues chart. Ollendorff also serves as community outreach and music programs manager at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. For more information on the programs available at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, visit countrymusichalloffame.org/education.
Janelle Morrison: The Center for the Performing Arts is a special place for me personally, and it’s important to me to advocate for its performances and outreach programs. The fact that you’re willing to take time for this upcoming presentation is incredible. These programs make a huge impact on the youth in our Hoosier community, so thank you.
Adam: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Julia [Shildmyer-Heighway] invited us to do a “Songwriting 101” program last year, and that was a blast. We had a great time and wrote a great song. One of the nice things about this moment [in time] has been getting to connect with and make some new friends in other places and doing more virtual programs/virtual songwriting with groups. I get a lot out of it too.
JM: How big of a challenge has it been not being able to experience the in-person collaboration and instruction? And have you been able to work around that and make it happen regardless of the pandemic?
Adam: I think so. Early on in the pandemic we started this program called Words & Music at Home. Words & Music at Home is an online extension of the museum’s flagship music education program, Words & Music. There are resources located where families can learn how to write their own original song lyrics and get tips on putting those ideas to music.
And we started doing things like KAR Front Seat with the Center for the Performing Arts and a lot of Songwriting 101—virtually. Whereas before [COVID-19], it had been in person at the Taylor Swift Education Center on Saturday mornings. There was definitely a learning curve for all of us, but I feel we got there pretty quickly.
JM: What has been the most important outcome of going virtual with the museum’s youth outreach programs?
Adam: I think we figured out how to engage people—virtually—and encourage them. There was a lot to write about during COVID-19, and everybody’s going through something. Kids, as you know, couldn’t go to school and couldn’t hang out with their friends. They were feeling really isolated, stressed out, sad and scared. I think the need for self-expression shot through the roof. They were looking for a way to connect and to continue making music, which I’m really proud that the museum has been able to offer that.
JM: Taking a step back, when did your personal journey in the music industry begin?
Adam: I remember being very little and being very moved by music. I remember being in a carpool with some friends, and one of my friend’s mom had some Beatles tapes. She had “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver,” and we would request songs. I remember being very excited about music, and as much as I loved hearing music, I used to wish that I would be the person making the music and being up on the stage. But I really didn’t know how exactly to get up there [on stage] for a long time.
JM: When did you realize that a career in music was what you wanted to dedicate your life to pursuing?
Adam: I didn’t realize until I was older that I really wanted to play music. I was 16 when I got into playing the guitar. My parents wanted me to pursue a more “traditional” career like law or medicine. I went to Princeton for undergrad and ended up getting a degree in literature, which I realize now has served me well in songwriting.
I was off and on with [playing] guitar through my early 20s. But, when I was 25, I was living in Chicago and was working in politics for the Illinois Attorney General in communications. I had started playing the pedal steel guitar, and that’s when I really wanted to pursue music professionally. I figured this was my last shot and left a really good gig as a communications coordinator for the Illinois AG to go to Berklee College of Music in Boston.
JM: Has there been a moment in this role as the museum’s community outreach and music programs manager that has impacted you the most?
Adam: One of our students, who started with us at 10 and is now 13, has been coming to our Summer Songwriting Camp. We couldn’t offer it last year because of the pandemic, but she continues to work with us and has participated in our Songwriting Tune Up program, virtually. I’ve seen her mature and grow as a musician, and she’s taking lessons from a prominent bass player here in town—doing it all virtually from the East Coast.
She came in a few weeks ago and said that her mother’s best friend’s husband had been killed in a car accident and that she had written a song for the couple’s 2-year-old daughter about all these milestones in this little girl’s life that have yet to occur. And how the little girl’s father will be present and absent from all these important moments in her life. She had processed this tragedy and written about it so poignantly in this really beautiful, artistic way. It was kind of gobsmacking to me, and I realized that the museum creates these opportunities for kids to deal with life’s issues and gives them the tools to express themselves whenever they need to.
JM: What is your best advice to young people exploring the idea of becoming a musician and/or songwriter?
Adam: I want to encourage kids to dream big and find mentors, including their peers, from whom they can learn and grow. During the KAR Front Seat, I’m going to play a song for them so they can get a sense of what I sound like as a songwriter, but I want to talk with them about the importance of dreaming big and to follow their dreams. I was told frequently as a kid that a career in the arts was not available. That you have to be “so lucky” or “so talented” or have to be born into it. If you have a dream of working in the arts—I’m here to tell you that it IS available.
I want to encourage the kids to express themselves and to communicate. I feel that communication is just a key to life in relationships, work, being on stage or in the recording studio. We’re all trying to communicate with each other, and being vulnerable and being ourselves is another important message that I intend to share. Be yourself and be open to others as well.