I’ve just returned from 3-days at the 30-A Songwriter’s Festival on the Florida Gulf Coast. Despite unseasonably cold temperatures, the amazing volunteers went out of their way to be sure the attendees were covered with Southern hospitality, dozens of great songwriters, and plenty of those tall propane heaters!
After years of being a professional songwriter, producer, and publisher I tend to be a little … uh … “jaded,” so these events can be a mixed bag for me. While I love songs and writers, I get a little “squirmy”! Despite my ADD, I found some real treasures this weekend.
Here were my Top-5 Experiences:
1. Matt Kearny – Many people complain about the rain in Oregon, but after living there for 10 years, let me tell you how it really is: In Oregon, it does rain gently on and off for about 5 months out of the year, but it’s rarely a downpour. It’s more like a calming blanket of energy that surrounds your coffee and creative endeavors. It allows for focus and reflection. I loved the rainy season. You also know this season will bring beauty to the other 7 months. It gives us giant green trees, snow in the mountains, and streams of life that you could enjoy as you hiked, fished, and windsurfed past your favorite waterfall. Bringing me back to that is Matt Kearny. My guess is this native Oregonian also loves the rainy season, as his voice reveals it’s beauty and stories. And rather than being depressed by the rain, he has chosen its mellow cadence to reveal the hope of the seasons. As I walked up to the venue this weekend, I heard hundreds of people singing the haunting melody of “Nothing Left to Lose” – and realized I’m not the only one who loves the rain!
2. Madi Diaz – This young 24-year-old songstress sat amidst veterans who had decades of experience on her. Despite her youth, I found myself eagerly waiting for her next song above all. As her voice resonated through Rosemary Beach Town Hall on songs like “A Little Bit” and “Love You Know”, I closed my eyes and swore I was listening to one of those young Karla Bonoff albums circa 1980. A rare artist like Madi doesn’t need much except a blank canvas to reveal herself, and she did that last Saturday night. With no trendy tricks, tracks or instrumentation, and the stark courage of Patty Griffin’s Living With Ghosts album, she was totally compelling in her simplicity. Back in Nashville, with her hair up in a ball-cap, I almost didn’t recognize Madi at the airport baggage claim. But then I saw the unmistakable smile that I’d seen the night before. I introduced myself, and groveled with business card in hand.
3. Chuck Cannon & Lari White – Chuck is widely known as a mega-hit, commercial songwriter for artists like Toby Keith. Beyond that, Chuck is as incredible artist/singer in his own rite. His album God Shaped Hole is among one of my favorite indy albums ever. A few years ago in his home studio, and prior to the album’s release, Chuck treated me to a private concert of several songs. It was chillingly great. I can tell you that album, and Chuck’s live set in Florida this weekend, capture that same compelling, magical energy that I first heard in his home studio. He paired this with his wife Lari White’s charm, energy, beauty, and chops, and it was fun to see them together. Lari has applied her traits to music, acting, producing, entrepreneurship – and I’m sure to her marriage and family as well. She’s inspiring on many levels. That afternoon she and Chuck were funny, warm, romantic, and they truly complimented each other.
4. Ben Glover – Man this guy is killing me! I’ve known Ben for several years and followed his 10-year career from a young, generic Christian singer, a touring guitarist, a hit-Country writer, to his recent honor as ASCAP’s Chrisitan songwriter-of-the-year. Finally comfortable in his own skin and identity, Ben is singing and writing with an authority and seasoning that comes from living real life, and putting in thousands of hours practicing your craft. Ben now seems to float effortlessly and authentically between Country, Christian and Alternative styles – while revealing a common heart and soul.
5. Shawn Mullins – I’d heard Shawn’s hits over the years (“Lullaby,” “Light You Up” et al.) but I’d never seen him live. Frankly, his huge voice could sing the phone book and it would sound profound. Instead, he played a solid set of perfectly crafted songs that were simultaneously diverse and revelatory. Nothing fancy, just meat-n-potatoes rock ‘n’ roll that envelops your heart like an old sneaker. It was one of those epiphanies you get every few years: listening to the haunting, hooky melody of a song like “Gulf of Mexico”, several hundred yards from the beach, at sundown, with a thousand of your friends, drinking a glass of wine, going…. “man I’ve discovered an artist I really, really love.”