June 27, 2022 2:29 pm

Nashville-based Shoes Off showcases Asian American and Pacific Islander artists

In January, Nashville-based musician Benn Park founded Shoes Off Music Booking Agency – an agency devoted to booking and showcasing local Asian American and Pacific Islander artists.

“I reached out to a lot of Asian artists based in Nashville on Instagram that I already knew, and all of them were very much excited about it,” Park said. “That support is really what kept the ball rolling. Shoes Off was originally supposed to be just a live music series, like a lot of writers’ series, but I think it became more than that just based off of the support I’ve garnered behind it.“

Although Music City is brimming with talent, visibility of Asian American and Pacific Islander  performers and opportunities to showcase their artistry has been lacking.

Shoes Off has hosted a variety of events for Asian American Hey Dudes and Pacific Islander performers, including a  Writers’ Night and a Takeover Round. Recently, the agency booked artists for Middle Tennessee’s Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Arts Festival.

Park has over 25 contacts in his list of artists and works regularly with around 15 of them. They are a mix of established musicians and up-and-comers.

“One of the artists I booked recently played South by Southwest,” Park said. “Another person has had cuts on a CW show, a Hulu show. Another person was on ‘The Voice’ a couple of years ago. Another artist – his latest single recently got on Fresh Finds on Spotify.”

Shoes Off Music Booking Agency founder and Nashville-based musician Benn Park.

Country singer Alison Nichols was contacted by Park after he came across the viral TikTok of Nichols’ song “Is It Just Me?” and found out she is Korean American. Nichols immediately accepted Park’s invitation to play in one of Shoes Off’s writers’ rounds.

“I’m so glad I did because it opened up a whole new community for me of fellow AAPI musicians and songwriters in Nashville,” Nichols said. “I had no idea there were so many of us, which is embarrassing, but also eye-opening.”

Nichols recalled first moving to Nashville and noting how few Asian American and Pacific Islander people there were, especially in the music industry – a different experience for the singer from Georgia and Texas.

“Little did I know, there are so many API artists in Nashville Brooks Shoes  just waiting to be heard, but there was no way of finding them before Shoes Off,” she said. “I think with the BLM movement, the subsequent AAPI movement and the recent rise of Black country artists in Nashville, Shoes Off came at the perfect time. It was the writers’ round Nashville didn’t know it needed.”

Singer-songwriter Willow Zhu, who is originally from Massachusetts, expressed similar thoughts.

“Shoes Off is doing something that has needed to be done for a while, providing a platform for minority voices in Nashville to perform and be seen,” Zhu said.

Musicians performing at a Shoes Off Music Booking Agency event.

After meeting Park at a writers’ round this January in her first week after moving to Nashville, Zhu became involved with Shoes Off.

“Shoes Off is a space, environment and community for AAPI writers to feel at home in Nashville, and I was especially excited to find another new family after moving away from mine for the first time,” Zhu said.

Park emphasized that Shoes Off does not claim to host the first all-Asian lineup or all-Asian writers’ round, but it is the firstin the area to so consistently.

And as of now, Shoes Off doesn’t plan on slowing down.

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