/Songwriters festival builds bridge between Mississippi and Nashville

Songwriters festival builds bridge between Mississippi and Nashville

This is the weekly ‘Sip of Culture. It’s a partnership between Mississippi Today Magazine and The Sip Magazine. Visit The Sip’s website to see more stories and to subscribe to the magazine. Mississippi has always had a lot of creative talent, particularly in the areas of literature and music. The state’s creative economy is not without its songwriters. On Sept. 16-17, more than 100 of country music’s most successful writers will be performing at the Mississippi Songwriters Festival. George Cumbest, co-founder of Mississippi Songwriters Alliance, said that “we didn’t really have community here.” But, if you look at Mississippi’s history regarding songwriters, you’ll find tons. The state did not have a festival to recognize those people. The festival, now in its seventh year puts the faces behind the songs in the spotlight for a series workshops and performances. Festival-goers can see performances by artists like Brent Anderson, a Pascagoula resident who performs and writes with Brad Paisley. Matt Hoggatt is a Jackson County native, whom Jimmy Buffett signed to his label. Tricia Walker, the head of Delta State University’s Delta Music Institute will be making her second appearance at the festival. Walker is a performer with dozens of Nashville hits, including songs by Faith Hill and Alison Krauss. She toured extensively with Shania Twain as a keyboardist and co-founded the Bluebird Cafe’s “Women in the Round” group along with Pam Tillis, Karen Staley, and Ashley Cleveland. She views the event as an opportunity to learn and network with other artists. Walker said that songwriters, despite being often alone, love to get tips from others or have had success. She said that songwriting and the business of selling songs has changed dramatically in the past two decades. Walker said that it was possible to still go into the doors of publishers and get some material 20 years ago. “But it’s becoming harder to get your songs in front of people who could use them,” Walker said. The Mississippi Songwriters Festival addresses the evolution of the industry with seminars and workshops that address both the craft of songwriting and the business side. Michael Garvin, multi-genre songwriter, has had hits songs recorded by Jennifer Lopez and George Strait. This workshop will cover both sides of the equation — publishing techniques as well as writing hit songs. Jamey Johnson, Mississippi Delta Community College instructor, will discuss chord progressions, music theory, and decoding the Nashville number system. This unique charting system is essential for session players and songwriters looking to move to Music City. Cumbest said, “If you are a songwriter you can get a lot more education here than you would get elsewhere.” “If you are going to watch, you have the chance to meet some people who have written these hits.” Another educational component to the festival is the Mississippi Songwriters Alliance. To help the next generation of musicians, the group donated guitars and ukuleles to local schools. Cumbest and other members of the group work together to “keep everyone’s fire lit”, he stated. They host weekly open mic nights in Ocean Springs and also the Songs and Stories performance series at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center. The festival’s mission extends to helping up-and-coming artists. Brandon Green, a Lucedale resident, was the runner up on Season 2 CMT’s Can You Duet and was chosen by Keith Urban to be the winner of Guitar Center’s “Your Next Record With Keith Urban” competition. Cumbest stated, “We want to create a bridge between here and Nashville.” Walker stated that songwriting events are her favorite place to be, as artists come together and share their stories and ideas. She loves watching how songs develop and stand on its own merits. She said that songwriters can communicate songs without using any embellishments and that the song is more honest than when they go to production. It reminds me of the great thing about creative process. This scenario is where you just do it because it’s what you love. Cumbest said, “The song becomes the focus.” You’ll ride more if you have friends who are bikers. To keep that culture alive, we try to foster it throughout the year. “There are a lot of writers out there than people think. And a lot less than we thought when this started.” Free performances will be held at Salvetti’s Boots & Spurs and Off the Hook. On Saturday, workshops will be held at Gulf Hills Resort with an entry fee of $35 per session and $60 for the entire day. The festival website has a complete schedule with times and venues.