Songwriters Unite at the Second Annual Pensacola Beach Songwriters Festival
By Jennie McKeon
It’s a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll and definitely full of heart. Songwriters will gather on Pensacola Beach for the second annual Songwriters Festival Monday, Sept. 27 through Sunday, Oct. 3.
Normally, songwriters don’t get the chance to bask in the limelight. However, the Songwriters Festival gives artists the opportunity to do just that.
“If there were no songwriters, there would be no songs,” said co-founder and coordinator,
Reneda Cross. “Songwriters are the unsung heroes, for lack of better words.”
Cross and Jim Pasquale, a singer and songwriter in the area, came up with the idea for the festival last year while having dinner at Paradise Inn on Pensacola Beach. Five weeks later, the Songwriters Festival was born, and this year’s celebration promises to be bigger than the last.
Not only will talented singers and songwriters be playing at various venues on Pensacola Beach, but they will also be visiting schools and holding guitar workshops. The first Celebrity Songwriters’ Mini Putt Putt Golf Tournament at Tiki Island Fantasy Golf & Games will take place on Thursday, Sept. 30. Local schools will team up with songwriters for a morning round, and in the afternoon, the adults will go head-to-head. Proceeds will go to music programs at local schools.
“The proceeds are strictly for the music,” Cross said. “Children are the future of music.”
It wasn’t easy to set up this year’s festival. Like everything else on the beach, the oil spill almost ruined the Songwriters Festival. All but a few sponsors dropped out of the festival leaving it all up to Cross and Pasquale. Luckily, there were plenty of people donating their time, which has no monetary value. This year, it’s even more important to come out to the beach and stay at the hotels, which is just what attendees are doing.
“The hotels are filling up,” Cross said. “We have people coming from all over—even as far as France.”
As for the music, you will have to hustle to catch up with all the talent. Over 50 acts will be playing in a week. Artists vary from local celebrity John Edd Thompson to Alex Call, the songwriter behind “867-5309/Jenny.” Many songwriters will be coming from Nashville and some from as far as New York.
Marc Black, from Katra, N.Y., has been playing guitar all of his life. Black plays everything from experimental to soul-rock. His newest CD, “Pictures of the Highway,” is number six on the Top 10 Folk DJ charts.
“You don’t just write a song to communicate,” Black explained. “When I write, I don’t always know what I’m going to say.”
Such haphazard writing has led to fun, silly songs like “Ooh, I Love My Coffee,” or “I Love You Rachel Maddow.” Yet, not all of Black’s writings are love poems to inanimate things and CNN stars. Black’s inspiration also comes from themes such as love, kids and life in general. After one of Black’s friends awoke from a stroke-induced coma, the two created an album called “Stroke of Genius.” Some of the 13 songs on the album will be played at the Songwriters Festival.
“It was therapeutic for my friend and enlightening for the rest of us,” Black added. “Life is a continuum.”
As for local talent, Johnny Barbato is looking to bring something to the festival that the audience hasn’t heard before.
“I’m a performer first and a writer second,” Barbato said. “I pay attention to what the audience wants to hear. If someone plays a slow song before me, I’ll pick it up a bit. I don’t have a plan. I play as I see fit.”
When you listen to Barbato’s music, it isn’t just entertaining, but a lesson learned.
“My music is always about me and my life,” Barbato explained. “I learn things the hard way and write about it. As long as I keep making mistakes, I have something to write about.”
With 50 years of music, the Purple Heart and a Grammy nomination under his belt, Gary Talley is one songwriter who definitely has a story to tell. Talley was the lead guitarist for the 1960s group, The Box Tops. Hits such as “Cry Like a Baby” and “The Letter” feature Talley’s guitar playing.
Talley will be playing and working at the festival. On Saturday, Oct. 2 you will be able to attend a free guitar workshop with Talley at Blues Angel Music. Talley teaches guitar in his hometown of Nashville, passing his talents down to children and creating a new generation of singers and songwriters.
“I think there are some enormously talented people out there,” Talley said. “Children are learning faster at a younger age. It’s pretty cool. I have some students who will be big music stars. They’re super talented.”
Maybe this new breed of talent will grace the stages at the Songwriters Festival one day. Until then, sit back, enjoy our beautiful beach and listen to what these songwriters have to tell us.
THE PENSACOLA BEACH SONGWRITERS FESTIVAL
WHEN: Monday-Sunday, Sept. 27-Oct. 3
WHERE: Pensacola Beach
Celebrity Songwriters’ Mini Putt Putt Golf Tournament
WHEN: 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30
WHERE: Tiki Island Fantasy Golf & Games, 2 Via De Luna Dr., Pensacola Beach
COST: Prices vary depending upon type of sponsorship
Guitar Workshop with Gary Talley
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2
WHERE: Blues Angel Music, 3733 W. Navy Blvd.