By Eddie Rhoades
Just about a year ago, I was noodling around on the Internet searching for songwriters conferences. On Dogpile search engine I keyed in Songwriters Festival and up popped two; a dot com in Nashville and a dot org in Ameila Island, Florida. There was not a lot on the dot org web page, just a few lines saying they held weekly songwriter contests for locals but wanted to expand to something bigger and were open for ideas about how to accomplish this.
I emailed the link given and received a response from Joe Warwick asking me to call him. I gave him a call we talked for 30 minutes or more about how to host a songwriters festival on a national basis. I had not been involved in hosting a festival but I had attended the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival in Gulf Shores for several years and was scheduled for one in Nashville plus the Durango Festival was also coming up for the first time in the East. The very first idea suggested was for him to contact BMI & NSAI and they would tell him exactly how to do it and would step up and help a lot with the logistics and preparations but there would be plenty left for Joe to do. We also discussed lining up local sponsors like the Chamber of Commerce, radio stations and local businesses plus anything related to music or beer & liquor (sponsors). I explained how the Frank Brown International Songwriter’s Festival lines up venues all over town instead of just one location where attendees might overwhelm the one location. I gave him contact information for Reneda Cross who heads up FBISF. Joe said he would consider all suggestions and that he intended to go to Key West to observe how their festival was run.
Joe explained how the local songwriter’s guild met weekly at the Frisky Mermaid Bar which is inside the Florida House Hotel he runs and how they always had a theme to write their songs about.
Everyone would write and perform songs about these theme topics. I didn’t think that would be a good idea because it seemed limiting. Of course I was completely wrong. If you’re simply going to perform, then play anything you want providing it’s original, but if there is a contest you do need guidelines. Joe had great ideas about the themes such as: drinking, guitar, Island life, and several more. All these festival are a lot alike but there is always something different about each one and I think Joe’s idea of themes and cash prizes sets it apart from others.
The event ran from Wednesday August 27th thorough Sunday August 31st – Labor Day weekend. I didn’t arrive until Friday so I had missed the “Drinking” category contest – too bad because I had a great song for that. I did enter two contests and did not win either. I didn’t even place. So much for putting “Contest Winner” on my resume’ But as Jason Blume said, “These contests are fun but don’t be discouraged if you don’t win, it’s no reflection on your talent,” Even he had placed last in an international contest in England many years ago but never lost faith in his songwriting ability. I can guarantee you I will be attending Jason’s workshop next year.
Even though I didn’t win, there were times between programs where I was able to perform several of my best songs at the different venues. I had a lot of fun acting as emcee and telling jokes. Anyone could have done this as they asked for volunteers to fill the time gaps between judging. No one else volunteered so I jumped at this opportunity.
BMI sent some of their big-name songwriters down for several showcase performances. I spoke to Mike Geiger who was born and raised in Fernandina Beach, Florida and now resides in Nashville. He commented that this festival ran smoother than most he’d seen, especially since it was the first time for it. John Wiggins was there, he’s the guy who wrote “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” which he performed at Whacky Davey’s. I would like to point out that these professionals are all very approachable. I spoke to one of these professionals and promptly forgot his name only to later see him several times and he always called me by name – how embarrassing. I got to see him perform at a venue and he began playing this fantastic lead guitar and it dawned on me his name is Chuck Jones and I had seen him play in Georgia at a place called Swallow at the Hollow performing along with Chuck Cannon.
Every year I attend songwriter festivals in Nashville, Gulf Shores, and Asheville. Now I will be adding Amelia Island, Florida to that list. These four events are wonderful places to meet and hang out with other musicians who play their original songs, plus you get to showcase your songs, have lots of fun (party), and make new friends. It’s living the dream.