Meet the Mentors

Museum Staff Mentors

Aaron Helvig

Associate Director of Music Programs

Aaron oversees the Museum’s flagship education program, Words & Music™, which serves thousands of students and audiences each year. Prior to joining the Museum’s education team in 2019, Aaron taught at Nashville’s Isaiah T. Creswell Middle School of the Arts. He has served as a guest instructor, clinician and judge for various music festivals, camps and organizations in Tennessee and his native Arizona, as well as an education curriculum consultant for Quaver Music. Aaron performs regularly in Nashville with his acoustic duo, Emberland. As a trombone player, he has performed with artists including Danny Gokey, the Jacksons, and the Temptations. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s degree in music from Northern Arizona University.

Adam Ollendorff

Senior Manager of Music Programs

Adam is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who co-wrote “Moonlight, Mistletoe, and You,” the title cut on Keb’ Mo’s 2019 holiday album, which spent four weeks at #1 on the Billboard blues album chart. He has also written songs with Natalie Hemby, Jim Lauderdale, and Maren Morris. Adam has toured and recorded with Will Hoge, Kacey Musgraves, and John Oates—playing pedal steel, Dobro, and guitar—and has appeared on recordings by J.D. McPherson and Carrie Underwood. He has performed on the Country Music Association Awards, the Grammys, the Late Show with David Letterman, and The Tonight Show, and alongside Loretta Lynn, NEEDTOBREATHE, Willie Nelson, Katy Perry, and Lee Ann Womack. Adam holds degrees from Princeton University and Berklee College of Music.

Katie Bramell

Director of Family and Youth Programs

Katie Bramell serves as the Director of Family and Youth Programs at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. She is a museum professional and public historian with 10 years of experience in the field. Bramell previously served as the Director of Museum Experiences at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. She has a Master of Arts in Public History from Northern Kentucky University and a Bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Central Missouri.

Nicole Laws

Youth and Family Programs Manager

Nicole Laws is the Youth and Family Programs Manager at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. She develops programs and resources that illuminate the stories, themes and music explored in the Museum’s galleries. She achieved her master’s degree in education and taught multiple grade levels from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. She is also an experienced artist; her main medium is fiber. She has shown at galleries in Chicago and Nashville. She has an illustration and design company that she makes custom clothes and Nashville souvenirs.

Jay McDowell

School Programs Coordinator

As an upright bassist, “Smilin’” Jay McDowell toured the world with CMA Award-winners and GRAMMY-nominees BR5-49, supporting the Black Crowes, Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, George Jones, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, and Brian Setzer. When he pivoted to video editor at Sony Music, Jay contributed to music videos, documentaries, and commercials for artists including Jones, Tracy Lawrence, and Ashley Monroe. He created the video content for the Vanderbilt University class, Popular Music’s Effect on the Integration of America. His collaboration with the music education character, Farmer Jason, led to an EMMY nomination. At the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Jay led the video department and collaborated on Backstage, a broadcast whose guests included Steve Cropper, Emmylou Harris, and Don McLean. He has published more than 350 music-related magazine articles and currently contributes to American Songwriter and Now Dig This.

Nicki Mortland

Community Outreach Manager 

Nicki Mortland is the Youth and Family Programs Coordinator. She studied History and Creative writing during her undergrad in Indiana and, before starting at the museum, worked in employment law. She is particularly interested in the ways that modern country music and culture connects with traditional roots. Some of her favorite musicians include The Chicks, The Highwomen, and Joan Shelley. When she is not planning fun programs and hanging out in the Taylor Swift Education Center, she is making rugs and spending time with her sweet cat Appa.

Songwriting Mentors

Shane Adams

Songwriting Mentor, June

Shane Adams is a twice GRAMMY nominated music educator, award-winning producer, composer, songwriter, and author. Shane is president of Artist Accelerator and is a founding lyric/songwriting instructor for Berklee Online, where he has taught lyric writing and songwriting since 2003. In 2013, Shane was named the Music Industry Professional of the Year by Chowan University, and in 2005 Shane earned the Tennessee Songwriter Association International’s highest honor, the Hallman Award, for outstanding contributions to the songwriting community. Shane’s book, The Singer-Songwriter’s Guide to Recording in the Home Studio, is available online and most bookstores.

Kyshona Armstrong

Songwriting Mentor, July

Hailing from South Carolina and trained as a classical musician, Nashville based singer-songwriter Kyshona began her career as a music therapist in mental health hospitals and correctional facilities. She has shared the stage with JD McPherson, Lake Street Dive, Margo Price, Meiko, and Wynonna Judd and recently opened for Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Kyshona’s 2020 album, Listen, has been recognized by Billboard, Rolling Stone Magazine, NPR Music, The Blue Grass Situation, and she has been heard on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as on HBO’s Insecure, starring Issa Rae. Kyshona released her latest album, Legacy, on April 26.

Anne Buckle

Songwriting Mentor, June

Anne Buckle is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and music producer. A descendent of the Carter Family and a cousin of June Carter Cash, Anne has country music in her blood, but she took a non-traditional path to Nashville. After earning her master’s degree from Harvard University, she spent her first few years out of college working for the U.S. Department of State and the governor of Tennessee before settling into her music career. As an artist, she has shared the stage with the late Charlie Daniels, toured with Augustana, opened for the Chicks on their DCX MMXVI World Tour, and has become a regular performer at the world-famous Bluebird Cafe. As a songwriter, she has written songs for other artists including David Archuleta, Marisa McKaye, and Jacob Westfall.

Tim Fagan

Songwriting Mentor, July

While working as music director and guitarist for Colbie Caillat, Tim Fagen co-wrote “Lucky” with Caillat and Jason Mraz, which won a Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. Tim signed with music publisher Sony/ATV and continued writing, producing, and performing in Los Angeles before moving to Nashville in 2017. He hosts a music variety channel on Twitch called Timmy’s Comeback, where he performs, produces improvised beats, and collaborates with other writers. His songs have appeared in films, TV shows, and national ad campaigns.

Paulina Jayne

Songwriting Mentor, June

Originally from Detroit, Michigan, singer-songwriter Paulina Jayne won the 2023 ASCAP Peggy Lee Songwriting Award for her song “Half.” She has opened for Sheryl Crow, Country Music Hall of Fame member Vince Gill, Sam Hunt, Old Dominion, Rascal Flatts, and Keith Urban. Paulina’s music has been featured on CMT, in a national Folgers Coffee commercial, and on the Netflix show Top Grier. She is sponsored by Ford Motor Company and serves as an ambassador for the national non-profit organization Miss Amazing, Inc., which empowers girls and women with disabilities.

Matt Kass

Songwriting Mentor, July

A native of Philadelphia and resident of East Nashville, producer, engineer, and songwriter Matt Kass studied ethnomusicology at Cornell University. In 2013, he co-composed, recorded, and mixed the score of First Comes Love, a feature-length production for HBO Documentaries. He earned “Best Live Album” honors at the 2008 Independent Music Awards for producing his band, The Brakes’, Tale of Two Cities record. Matt’s production and compositions have been used in TV shows and national advertising campaigns, and have garnered more than 100 million impressions. 

Claire Kelly

Songwriting Mentor, June

A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Claire moved to Nashville in 2016 to pursue songwriting full time. Her songs have been placed on ABC Networks’ Station 19, HBO Max’s 12 Dates of Christmas, and her song “The Art of Letting Go” was recently featured on the hit Netflix series Love is Blind. In 2020, Claire was named a finalist for both the Kerrville Folk Festival’s Grassy Hill New Folk Songwriting Competition and the Songwriter Serenade” songwriting contest in La Grange, Texas.

Savannah Keyes

Songwriting Mentor, July

Originally from Sandy, Utah, Savannah Keyes signed her first record deal at age thirteen, after performing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. In 2017, Savannah wrote, produced, and hosted her own Radio Disney Country show, Let the Girls Play, with a focus on interviewing female artists like Gabby Barrett and Tenille Townes. Savannah has served as a spokesmodel for American Girl and Taylor Guitars’ collaboration on the singer-songwriter doll, Tenney. She also appeared on the CNBC docuseries Streets of Dreams, which featured her song “Superman,” and she represented her home state of Utah on NBC’s songwriting show, American Song Contest. Her debut EP, I’m Not California, is available everywhere.

Michelle Pereira

Songwriting Mentor, June

Michelle is a singer-songwriter born and raised outside of Toronto. She has performed at various iconic venues around Nashville, including the Bluebird Cafe, the Listening Room, 3rd and Lindsley, EXIT/IN, and City Winery. In March of 2019, Michelle was selected to be a part of ASCAP’s 2019 GPS (Guidance from Publishers for Songwriters) program. In February 2020, she won the Bluebird Cafe Golden Pick contest for best original song.

Claire Wyndham

Songwriting Mentor, July

Claire is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose music has taken her all around the globe. After achieving success in her native Australia, she moved to Nashville in 2010. She signed a publishing deal in 2013 and found her niche placing songs in film and television. Claire’s songs have been featured on networks like HBO, CBS, NBC, The CW Freeform, and MTV. In 2022, she released an EP, Waves, with her duo, the Lonely Fighters.

Guest Artists and Music Career Panelists

Kevin Dailey

Guest Music Career Panelist, June

Kevin Dailey is a Grammy-recognized composer, producer, engineer, and multi-instrumentalist who has worked with an array of artists including Stephen Day, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, John Mark McMillan, Kenny Rogers, Usher, and Abigail Washburn. He produced and performed on Compassion, the 2020 breakout EP by Brittney Spencer, who was named to CMT’s Next Women of Country Class of 2021. Dailey has also composed original scores for film and TV, including the series Queen America, starring Catherine Zeta Jones, which premiered on Facebook Watch. He engineered the album Rocket Science by Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, including the song “Life in Eleven,” which won Best Instrumental Composition at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards. As a previous member of the band Civil Twilight, Dailey contributed music to films and television series, including Big Love, House M.D., One Tree Hill, Pretty Little Liars, and Shameless. Kevin records and releases his own original music as Garden Friend and Boone River. He recently composed and orchestrated instrumental suites for strings and woodwinds, slated for release in 2024.

Kylie Dailey

Guest Music Career Panelist, June

Nashville-based artist Kylie Dailey began releasing music professionally in 2021, but her songs have already garnered millions of plays and more than 87,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. A native of Colorado, Kylie signed to Stockholm-based Epidemic Sound and has released three EPs, including 2023’s All Yours, Baby.  With her partner, producer and fellow Epidemic artist Kevin Dailey, Kylie fashions a sound that draws influence from Americana, pop, and African folk music.

Alex Hall

Guest Artist, June 

Originally from Gainesville, Georgia, Monument Records recording artist Alex Hall released his debut full-length record, Side Effects of the Heart, in September 2023. His 2021 EP, Six Strings, features guitar and vocals from Kassi Ashton, Country Music Hall of Fame member Vince Gill, John Osborne of Brothers Osborne, Brad Paisley, Tenille Townes, and Brad Tursi of Old Dominion. Alex has opened for Brandy Clark, Little Big Town, Tenille Townes, and Country Music Hall of Fame member Tanya Tucker. 

Beth Laird

Guest Music Career Panelist, July

Beth began her music business career at BMG Nashville and at Windswept Music Publishing. In 2011, she co-founded Creative Nation, an independent music publishing, management, and record company, with her husband, two-time Grammy winning songwriter and producer Luke Laird. Beth oversees a roster of artists and songwriters that includes Kassi Ashton, Barry Dean, Lori McKenna, and Steve Moakler, as well as a deep catalogue of music by Natalie Hemby and Bear Reinhardt (NEEDTOBREATHE), among many others. Under Beth’s leadership as CEO, Creative Nation has garnered more than seventy Billboard Country Radio singles and more than twenty #1’s.

Ryan Larkins

Guest Artist, July 

Born and raised in Nashville, Ryan started writing songs at twelve years old and honed his craft playing guitar and singing in church. He signed a publishing deal with Sony Music Publishing and has written with many of Music City’s most celebrated songwriters, including Rhett Atkins, Country Music Hall of Fame member Bill Anderson, Tom Douglas, and Craig Wiseman. Ryan co-wrote “Someday It’ll All Make Sense,” a duet between Anderson and Dolly Parton, which earned a Grammy nomination for Best American Roots Performance. Ryan has also landed cuts by Cody Johnson (including the #1 song, “The Painter”) and Tim McGraw. In 2023, he released the EP, Meet Ryan Larkins, on Jay DeMarcus’s label, Red Street Records. 

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