Before you head out to your favorite bar to hear one of the 150 songwriters pour their hearts out at the Frank Brown International Songwriter’s Festival, you need to know one thing: when the songwriter is singing, you better be quiet.
“One thing I want the audience to learn is to be quiet,” said songwriter Wayne Carson. “You can’t listen and talk.”
Songwriter and producer Larry Butler put it bluntly: “Come in, sit down and shut up,” he said with a laugh.
After the set is over you can holler all you’d like, in fact it’s appreciated—but these veterans of music take their jobs seriously. However, it won’t be hard to keep quiet. The songwriters set to perform have been inspired by everything in life and provide you with stories, not just lyrics.
“There is no one place to get inspiration from,” Carson said. “Inspiration is like love; it comes from various places at various times.”
Even TV can bring out the poet in a songwriter.
“I’m addicted to TV,” said Butler. “Somebody will trigger a thought and I will write it down and turn it into a song. When I was watching Monday Night Football, a sportscaster said ‘Somebody’s gonna lose,’ and that gave me an idea.”
“Life’s experiences inspire me,” said Ken Lambert, one of the first musicians to play at the Flora-Bama. “I remember the song I wrote, ‘You Can’t Borrow Back Any Time.’ I wrote it one night after a lonely evening in a hotel in Mobile, Ala. I thought I was getting old. I was only in my thirties. Now I’m 72 and I really know what it’s like.”
The songwriters, especially all who knew him, count Frank Brown as an inspiration. As the night watchman for the Flora-Bama, it was his job to protect people. For some, he was a father figure. When Brown passed away in 1988, the festival was named after him and carries on his legacy.
“Mr. Frank used to listen to me play before he went to work,” said songwriter J. Hawkins. “I loved him and I miss him. He was a good friend. He was always there with a smile and words of encouragement. When you’re young and hanging around the bars you can get a little wacky. He’d straighten me out.”
Many of the songwriters at the festival have had long, successful careers in music. Maybe it’s because they didn’t have the fame like performers do, but they’ve remained humble and when speaking of their success they refer to it as luck or a blessing, even though it boils down to raw talent.
“I’ve been very blessed,” said Butler, who is the first and only Nashville producer to win a Grammy for Song of the Year. “My job is to entertain and provide the audience with music. The guy that fixes my car or my TV, they are my heroes. They’re doing their job, and I’m doing mine.”
Carson, who wrote “Always on My Mind,” went out to win the Grammy for Best Country Song and Song of the Year in 1982. Carson still feels excited about his success, but doesn’t brag.
“I feel great,” Carson said of his success. “It’s the only way to feel. Like the guy that invented the Harley, but I’m just a poet.”
This humble nature deserves recognition, which is why the Frank Brown International Songwriter’s Festival is a great opportunity to hear songs you already know and love in the purest form.
“Most songwriters are not singers,” Butler said. “As bad as our singing may be, you’re still getting the full impact of the emotion behind the songs.”
“At the Songwriter’s Festival, you can meet the person who put the words and music together,” said festival coordinator Kathy Melson. “You get to find out what was going on when they wrote the song.”
The festival will be held from Thursday, Nov. 11 to Sunday, Nov. 21. The 25 venues cover Pensacola, Perdido Key, Orange Beach, Ala. and Gulf Shores, Ala. The farthest east the festival stretches is Hub Stacey’s in downtown Pensacola. The festivities will begin with the Progressive Locals Kick-Off on Wednesday, Nov. 10. Local songwriters will perform at Tipseas at 6:30 p.m., North Shore Grill and Hula Hula Tiki Bar at 7:30 p.m. and the Silver Moon at 8:30 p.m.
On Thursday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m., Ken Lambert, J. Hawkins and Jimmy Lewis, or the “originals” as they’re called, will grace the stage together with guitarist James Daniels at the Silver Moon.
“This has never been done before,” said Brucie Grassell, the scheduling director of the festival. “These guys are still incredible.”
The Frank Brown International Songwriter’s Festival, which was founded by Joe Gilchrist, is a great opportunity to hear both local and national songwriters tell you a story you’ve never heard before.
“People, come out and prepare to be lifted up,” Hawkins said. “This is an experience you don’t see or hear everyday. I advise anybody who likes music to come out.”
“It’s a real fellowship,” Butler said. “It’s not show and tell. It’s sharing our hearts and feelings.”
FRANK BROWN INTERNATIONAL SONGWRITER’S FESTIVAL
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 11 through Sunday, Nov. 21
WHERE: Various venues
COST: Most concerts will be free; however, some venues may have a cover charge.