Bringing Back the Front Porch
The Southport Songwriter Festival is building our community and bringing people together
BY: JEFFREY STITES
One of the hallmarks of human civilization, of the dividing line between animals driven by instinct and humans driven by culture, is the creation of art. Music was one of the very first examples of that cultural building block. Enjoying and creating music is in our DNA, our blood, our souls. This month Southport plays host to a week-long celebration of the power of music with the second Southport Songwriter Festival (S2F).
Louisa Branscomb, professional songwriter, psychologist and founder of the S2F, says the reasons people write music can take many forms, ”…transform something painful, to put powerful positive feelings into form, or just to make sense of life. A song transforms something into something else, and it is always beautiful, because it is art, and because it is of the human spirit.”
From Monday, April 18 through Sunday, April 24 the Southport Songwriter Festival offers a chance to become immersed in music and hobnob with the songwriters themselves. The focus on songwriters and the intimate, community setting really set this festival apart from others, said Branscomb, and it will be a treat for the Southport community.
“It’s the first time this kind of international talent has been brought to their doorstep. The structure allows for intimate gatherings of individuals to hear these artists,” Branscomb said, adding that it is a unique opportunity for the songwriters as well. “There’s so little for songwriters as an art, where you can sit and look at 20 people and their reaction to your work.”
Performance formats will vary with workshops, an open mic night, a Nashville-style round concert, a couple traditional concerts in a variety of venues and even a “porch stroll” during which “pied pipers” will take small groups to experience live music on Southport’s front porches, all ending up at the same house to enjoy a final show.
A “front porch culture” is one of the charms that drew Branscomb to Southport when she was looking for a place to relax and escape from the music business for a while. “I was looking for a village setting on the coast where there was a sense of community and appreciation for the arts, and natural beauty. I googled every town starting on the Florida panhandle all the way around Florida, and up through Georgia and S.C. and N.C. to Wilmington. I made a list of 10 to visit. I came to Southport first and never visited any of the others,” she said, adding that she enjoys a town where one can take a walk and engage with neighbors along the way, from just saying hello as you pass to sitting a spell on the porch.
“Bringing back the front porch” is one of the festival’s slogans, and an important part of building community through music. “Bring back the front porch—it’s a radical act,” she said, “We want to protect a personalized lifestyle. People will have conversations with you. It’s all based on the front porch. It’s the opposite with what’s happening with the dehumanizing of the music industry.”
Branscomb has reached out to kindred spirits throughout that music industry, both nationally and locally, to bring a wide range of talent and musical genres to this year’s Songwriter’s Festival, expanding on last year’s event in several ways.
“I have tried to put into effect all the feedback we got from last year, as well as some visions we had all along. We’ve expanded the kinds of music this year to more than 6 genres with a diversity of music styles and kinds of events,” she said. “Whereas last year we had about 45 songwriters over the weekend, this year we plan to have over 60 songwriters and some 75 or more musicians performing. We have expanded to have more children, more kinds of events, and to add educational events including a workshop and mentor sessions for new and professional songwriters.”
One of the favorites returning this year will be the Sunday Songs of the Spirit concert at the Southport Community Building. “We have added a diversity of kinds of spiritual music, and it is going to be a phenomenal finale to the weekend,” said Branscomb.
A children’s band, the Howard Family, will kick off this event with their original song written by Branscomb, “When We See In Color, Not In Black And White,” and the S2F theme song, penned by Branscomb and Southport’s Mike Hass, followed by an audience participatory sing on a familiar hymn led by Madison Drew and other artists. The afternoon festival continues with Brunswick county R&B prodigy Ian Davis and a full force gospel quintet led by Lamanuel Boykin. Jeanette and Johnny Williams return for one set to finish off the afternoon, singing the blues in bluegrass and bluegrass gospel.
Branscomb is making it a point to include more young people in this year’s festival. Youth from the Kidswrite program at South Brunswick High School will be performing their own songs on one of the porches during the Porch Stroll. The Kidswrite program was founded by Branscomb and is administered by SBHS aquaculture teacher Barry Bey.
Branscomb is a practicing psychologist and uses music and songwriting to help both troubled children and adults. “I have been working with both professional songwriters, and people who don’t necessarily already write songs — such as new songwriters, or high-needs populations such as at-risk children and adults, for around 35 years. I have a model of teaching that has evolved over many years, influenced by my experiences as a songwriter and a psychologist, that focusses on the creative process and helping people connect in authentic ways with their own personal writer’s voice. When you’re speaking from your soul, don’t be afraid of that,” she tells those she works with. The top three Kidswrite students will perform. “They’ve written these heart-rending songs about their dreams,” Branscomb explained, and they are very excited (and a bit nervous) to share their work.
In contrast to showcasing emerging high school talent, Saturday night will see the festival’s Premier Concert at 7 pm at the Southport Marina. Dubbed “Take Five,” to boast 5 internationally known songwriters, this event brings powerhouse musicians and their bands to Southport’s front door: Missy Raines and the New Hip playing jazz and blues-infused Americana, Claire Lynch with Bryan McDowell and the Jeanette Williams Band bringing contemporary acoustic and roots bluegrass to the stage. The Jeanette Williams Band will feature guest and festival host Louisa Branscomb.
Take Five concert-goers will also have the rare chance to hear Branscomb and Lynch perform their widely acclaimed hit, “Dear Sister,” based upon letters between Branscomb’s own great-great aunt and uncle during the civil war.
The festival kicks off Monday with a songwriter workshop featuring Eliza Gilkyson, who will join Branscomb and Teresa Neal for a Nashville-style Round Con- cert that evening.
Songwriter mentor sessions with Neal and Branscomb will be available in a private setting by reservation only Tuesday and Wednesday. Sessions are $30 per half hour and can be reserved via email to SouthportSongwriterFestival@gmail.com.
On Thursday at 7 pm Randy Truett hosts a free open mic night for songwriters at the Southport Community Building.
Friday afternoon from 3:30 to 5 pm Southport Johnny’s Guitar and Art will host an open house where you can mix and mingle with many of the week’s songwriter guest artists before the Full Moon Blues By The Bay concert at the Southport Marina at 7 pm Friday night featuring Rev Geutschow, Dennis Walton and Guy Phillips among other acts yet to be announced.
Saturday features the Porch Stroll and Take Five Premier Concert and the festival wraps up Sunday at the Southport Community Building with the Songs of the Spirit events.
Tickets for the Southport Songwriter Festival are available now through the festival website, www.southportsongwriterfestival.com. A few events, such as the open mic night and open house, are free, while others offer an individual ticket. Also available is a weekend pass for $50 that includes many of the festival events, such as the Porch Stroll, Full Moon Blues By The Bay and Songs of the Spirit.
“The best way to do the event is to buy the weekend ticket and the Premier Concert ticket and immerse yourself in the music, get to hear songs of all styles, and get to meet others and enjoy the camaraderie of going through the weekend together,” said Branscomb.
Branscomb said this festival is coming together with a much smaller budget and fewer volunteers than comparable events she’s been associated with. She hopes to make the Southport Songwriter Festival an annual thing, and this year will determine if that will be possible.
“I hope that if the community sees having this help distinguish Southport, help children in the schools, and help songwriters and businesses of Southport, they will support what we are doing, and if not, we will just have accomplished something wonderful for two years. After all, our mission is building community. We are doing that as we speak,” Branscomb said. “It’s a big mis- sion with a big heart. We are new, so we have a shoestring budget and a small but mighty group of volunteers. We welcome volunteers and contributions, to help us with this year, and to make it to year three. Without contributions, we may not be able to continue the tradition of these first two festivals. There are many ways to be apart–we have a place for everyone. I believe it takes a village to do most anything. To me, Southport is that village.”
Schedule of Events
1-5 p.m.: Songwriter Workshop with master songwriter Eliza Gilkyson Includes Monday concert 7-9pm.
7-9 p.m.: Songwriter Round Concert, a Nashville Style Concert with Eliza Gilkyson, Teresa Neal, and Festival Producer/Host Louisa Branscomb
$20 Sponsored by Frying Pan Restaurant.
TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY
1-4 p.m.: -Songwriter Mentor Sessions with Teresa Neal and Louisa Branscomb. By reservation – $30/half hour. Private setting.
6-10 p.m.: Songwriter Open Mic at the Southport Community Building, Host: Jeremy Truett, Admission is Free
3:30-5 p.m.: Open House at Southport Johnny’s Guitars and Art, Admission is Free
7-10 p.m.: Full Moon Blues by the Bay at the Southport Marina. Blues Showcase with Rev Geutschow, Dennis Walton, Guy Phillips and Others
**Included in Weekend Pass. $20 at gate
12-5 p.m.: Front Porch Song Stroll, 30 writers from across the country showcase original songs on historic Southport Porches.
**Included in Weekend Pass (Save on advance ticket – $25 at the gate) Sponsored by Southport Realty.
7-9:30 p.m.: Take Five Premier Concert at the Southport Marina. A powerhouse showcase of five of Acoustic Music’s Leading Songwriter/Performers and virtuoso supporting musicians! Featuring Missy Raines & The New Hip, Claire Lynch with Bryan McDowell, and Jeanette Williams Band with Johnny Williams plus guest Louisa Branscomb. $40 advance, $45 at door Sponsored by Strings and Beyond
12-1 p.m.: KIDS ON THE DECK Special Kids event led by Lamanuel Boykin. Free
1-4 p.m.: SONGS OF THE SPIRIT at the Southport Community Building. Cele- brating diversity and roots in spiritual music. Featuring IAN DAVIS, LAMANUEL BOYKEN and COMPANY, the HOWARD FAMILY, and the Blues in Bluegrass by JEANETTE WILLIAMS BAND, and others.
**Included in Weekend Pass (Save on advance ticket – $15 at door)