Chasing dreams: Local artists go from Lima to Nashville

LIMA — From photographers to songwriters and singers, Nashville, Tennessee, is growing into Shangri-La for people with big dreams from Lima and the surrounding area

A significant number of local artists and performers have made their way to Music City in the past few years to see what their ceiling in the music industry might be, and it does not seem to be stopping anytime soon.

“My friends from Alabama, Georgia and Florida all are shocked at how people from Ohio love country music,” said songwriter Liam Stolly, who has been working in Nashville since 2020. “I think recently, it may have something to do with how the arts community is coming together more to push the live music scene. There are a lot of people behind the scenes showing people that you can write music and you might not be on the stage singing it, but you can create and there is no right or wrong way to do it.”

It’s an opportunity to perform for Derek Pignataro, who goes by the name Derek Alan on stage.

“In Lima, you can’t go out and perform on a Tuesday night,” Pignataro said. “There’s more work in Nashville in that sense. I’m not talking badly about Lima because there is plenty of work available there. But there are just a lot more people that work in the industry down here.”

According to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, the music industry accounts for $15.6 billion within the Nashville metropolitan area.

There are 43,000 jobs in the music industry in the area and 3,000 working musicians.

Exciting opportunity

For people who have never been to Nashville, anything from eating at a place where Johnny Cash might have once sat to experiencing the lights of Broadway and roaming the various venues of Music Row at all hours of the night can be enough to overwhelm.

But for artists like Stolly, Pignataro and St. Marys country rapper Brandon Mullins, who goes by the stage name 6 B.Low, performing in the Lima area prepared them well for it.

“It’s so cool to be a small part of the whole music community out there right on Music Row,” said Stolly, who has performed at several venues around town. “Some days, you might be hearing an artist that you’re listening to in the room right next to you singing and writing. But I have friends who dread going home, and I look forward to that all the time whether I’m playing or not.”

Pignataro said he appreciated the support from the Lima area.

“Honestly, playing back home in the surrounding areas and Lima and seeing all the support that I have back there from people who would come to my shows and had nice things to say gave me confidence and continues to give me confidence,” Pignataro said. “Everyone back home, everyone that is important to me, told me I could do it if I wanted to.”

The push to Nashville felt like destiny for Mullins.

“I had a dream about performing my new song ‘Losin my Mind’ in front of thousands of people and they were loving it, so I don’t know if that was God’s way of telling me to go to Nashville and record it, but a combination of having people that I trust to know what they’re talking about and the man upstairs is what helped me to overcome the doubts that I had before heading there,” Mullins said.

Reaching their goals

While it might not be a coincidence that a lot of the young artists from the greater Lima area know that Nashville is the place to go to chase their dreams in the music industry, it also might not be a coincidence that so many of them believe they can reach their goals in the first place.

“Some great advice I was given by a professional writer back when I first moved here was that you never see a professional surfer who lives in Oklahoma,” Stolly said. “If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to put yourself in a position for success.”

Mullins said that he never thought he would be able to make music in Nashville when he first started recording two years ago.

“I would have told you maybe five or 10 years from now,” he said. “But I’m actually already scheduled to be going back down there to work with another producer. I never would have thought I would be where I am now. I’m very blessed and grateful.”

After signing a distribution deal for his song, it could be just the start.

“You never know what’s going to work or not so you’ve just got to keep working,” he said. “I constantly write, and I’m not afraid to get feedback from other people on it. I feel more motivated now in my career than I ever have as an artist, and I’ve got a lot of stuff coming this year.”

A cutthroat business

But like all show business, the music industry can be cutthroat if you are trying to get into it. And it is no different in Nashville.

“You are going to have people turn you down sometimes,” Pignataro said. “And you’re going to hear things you don’t want to hear and people might say something negative, but you have to have that confidence in yourself to look past some of that too and know that you’re good enough to have work and know that the right person could find you and that it can all pan out. It just might not happen instantly.”

That is why it is helpful to have even modest connections like those of Stolly, whose distant cousin Rory Bourke had an extensive career as a songwriter in Nashville for the likes of George Strait and Elvis Presley.

“Meeting him whenever he would come to town and visit was kind of where I got introduced to songwriting around middle school,” he said. “When I went to college at Cincinnati, I would make frequent trips to the city to see what it was all about, and now that I’m writing with him, he’s been a great help. It’s crazy to see the gold records on his wall, and it makes me realize we’re a lot more similar than we are different.”

For photographer Brian Williams, knowing that there was already work available to him and that he could keep his job as a marketer in Lima made it that much easier to make the leap.

“There are highs and lows of trying to find work,” he said. “Luckily I was able to get work that helped offset my downtime and made sure I had money coming in. I know people go there and have nothing or they’re trying to freelance downtown, and it’s really about grinding it out and letting people know that you’re there.”

For Stolly, Williams and Pignataro, who all graduated from Lima Central Catholic, knowing each other and collaborating at times is itself a connection.

“Even though it’s a big city, a lot of people say it has a small-town feel,” Pignataro said. “I’m used to Lima, Delphos and Bowling Green, but being able to run into people from your hometown and meeting people in the bars I play in who are from Ohio is really cool to see. I’ve definitely made more connections to back home down here than I thought I would.”

But if you can do it, it is like nothing else.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “If I have free time, I’m sitting at home playing my guitar. So, it’s awesome to be able to go downtown and play it for money and see that people enjoy listening to it. It’s really cool to be able to share that with other people and turn it into a career as well.”

Even for the band that just wants to experience the city for a few shows like St. Mary’s band 40 Acre, it is worth the travel and sacrifice.

“It was a lot more work than we anticipated,” frontman Josh Barnes said about the weekend the band played at such places as Tootsie’s. “The logistics of getting to and from the gigs and setting up the stage and tearing things down was a lot of work. But it was a lot more fun than we thought it would be.”

So what does it take to make it in Music City if you are from this area, aside from performing shifts that could stretch deep into the early morning hours?

“A big challenge for me is being away from home and everyone I’m close with,” Pignataro said. “There are definitely a lot of nice people and everyone’s kind and willing to help you, but it’s an aggressive industry in terms of trying to get your foot in the door. But if you can get your foot in the door and find the job that you like to do in the music industry, it’s awesome. I always tell people that it feels like I don’t work.

It can be different, although no less challenging for writers like Stolly.

“It’s a business and that can be scary, but it can be encouraging,” he said. “A lot of people go down there and hear about people that sign bad record deals and bad publishing deals they think they’re getting a chunk of change, and then they don’t own anything they write for the next 10 years. You’ve really got to read all of the fine print every time.”

The same is true for Williams and those on the marketing side of the industry. Williams’ work can be seen in the pages of major magazines like People and on his website,, and social media.

“Whether it’s photography or you’re wanting to play music, you’ve got to realize that you have to grind it out and take the jobs that nobody wants,” he said. “And if they don’t pay anything, that’s hard, but it’s about networking. There is so much going on in Nashville, whether it’s local artists playing in a small theater or a bar that you want to take your camera to.”

Taking their chances

But each of these artists has one thing in common: they took their chance.

“Just do it,” said Stolly, whose work on a song titled “Runnin’ Out on You” by Kameron Marlowe will be on the artist’s debut album “We Were Cowboys.” “Throw yourself under the surface. I told myself I didn’t want to be 35 asking what if I would have moved down there. It’s gone way better than I thought it ever could this soon.”

“Runnin’ Out On You” can be viewed on YouTube at

It’s been a fun experience for Pignataro.

“If you’re looking to get into it and do it on a regular basis, it is fun,” he said. “I have a blast doing it every day, but you still have to treat it like work. You have to show up prepared, on time and be ready for whatever gets thrown at you.”

It’s also important to have confidence, Barnes said.

“Believe in yourself,” he said. “It’s a cliche, but just because you get told no, it maybe just means not now. It takes persistence and time, and the stars almost have to align. If we can have some confidence and believe in what we’re doing, then someone playing a solo acoustic gig out of their basement or a local band trying to make it big can, too.”

And for Stolly and Pignataro, one thing is for sure: Going to Nashville has been worth it.

“If you listen to what people have to say you can learn so much,” Pignataro said. “I’ve learned so much from just talking to people down here that are in different parts of the industry.”

Pignataro, who performs on a circuit of several Nashville venues nightly and will perform at this year’s Country Concert Festival in July, can be found on Facebook and Instagram and his music can be streamed on YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music.

Stolly, who is no stranger to performing around Lima, will be found on stage at multiple festivals in the area this spring and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram.

“My goals were never to get a song on the radio or to play certain stages on Broadway,” Stolly said. “It was just to find the right people and do it the right way. And I knew if I did it that way, I would fall in love with it, and if it didn’t work, I had my degree and I at least gave it a shot. It’s a special community and I’m putting in the work to set myself up to continue the journey.”

Plans are also in place for Mullins and 40 Acre to return for more performances and recordings. 40 Acre can be found on Facebook and performing at venues around the area.

“We’ve talked about it, and we’ve gotten the opportunity as well, but we’ve just got to figure out scheduling stuff,” Barnes said. “We might even make it an annual thing, depending on some of the traction. But we’re open to it because it was a ton of fun, and we made a lot of great connections.”

Mullins, whose song “Losin’ My Mind” comes out March 31, can be found on social media and his website, His music can also be streamed on all platforms.

“You’ve got to stay hungry,” Mullins said. “You’ve got to want it, but at the same time, you have to find a team of people that believe in you because if it wasn’t for my team helping me move in the right direction, I wouldn’t be where I am. Never give up if you really believe in yourself.”

Reach Jacob Espinosa at 567-242-0399.