Band: Mississippi Songwriters Festival
Date: Sept. 19 – 22
Venue: Visit mssongwritersfestival.com for participating venues
Tickets: Visit the festival’s website for info on ticketed performances
Over 100 composers from across the nation will be descending upon the Mississippi Gulf Coast for four days of songs, the stories behind them and more. Venues in Ocean Springs, Gautier, Biloxi and Moss Point will be hosting the 2019 Mississippi Songwriters Festival.
The festival’s lineup includes Paul Overstreet, Blue Mother Tupelo, Brandon Green, J Edwards, Bill Whyte, Buddy Jewell and many others. Mobile Bay Area favorites Lisa Mills and Sugarcane Jane will also be performing at this festival.
In addition to the numerous performances, festival board member Reggie Bates says this event includes the first induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame for the Mississippi Songwriters Alliance as well as a number of educational experiences.
“We do education in school,” Bates said. “We have songwriters go to schools and write songs with kids. We provide guitars to educational classes. We also have workshops on Saturday of the festival [at Gulf Hills Hotel & Conference Center]. There will be a couple of different people who will teach about the art of songwriting, guitar and different topics that songwriters might be interested in.”
A songwriter in his own right and former DJ, Bates has worked with the festival in some capacity for its 10-year run. One thing that makes this festival so special is the attention focused on the songwriters of all levels from a number of approaches.
Bates says this was part of the festival’s mission statement from the beginning. In fact, this festival was created in part by a number of veteran Nashville songwriters, including Tommy Barnes, Karen Reynolds and Steve Leslie. The songwriters involved with the first festival as well as subsequent ones were able to use their network to not only pull fellow songwriters to the event but also create educational experiences for both accomplished and up-and-coming wordsmiths.
“[The songwriters] help us to do workshops,” Bates said. “They help us to hone in on the craft and make relationships easier. It’s harder today than it has been to pitch a song or get a song recorded. After you do that, it’s hard to make any money off of it. The way today’s music is being distributed, it’s difficult for a songwriter to make a living.”
As far as advice for songwriters new to the festival, Bates says they should use the weekend to network as much as possible. Bates also advises songwriters new to the festival to write as much as possible over the weekend, especially with other songwriters.
When he first started writing songs, Bates says he thought his creation process thrived better from writing alone. After co-writing with fellow songwriters, Bates experienced the benefits of collaborations.
“The more you write with other people, the more you learn and pick up new things,” Bates said. “You pick up melodies and new ways to do chords. Write a lot, and write with different people.”
Songwriters are not the only ones who can have a unique experience at the Mississippi Songwriters Festival. Those who are there to enjoy the music might witness a performance from accomplished songwriters who attended the festival in the past, and were what Bates describes as “a kid that just wanted to be a songwriter.”
Brent Anderson is one example. As a songwriter on the roster of Brad Paisley’s publishing company Sea Gayle Music, this festival alumnus and Ocean Springs native co-wrote “Lonely Tonight,” which was picked up by Blake Shelton. Brett McLaughlin is another Ocean Springs native and festival veteran who has become an accomplished songwriter in Los Angeles. McLaughlin has penned songs for Selena Gomez, Carrie Underwood and Capital Cities.
“It’s really neat to see these young people come through and actually do very, very well,” Bates said.
The performances also provide unique experiences for festival-goers. Audiences could be treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the songs performed on stage. Featured artists could regale the crowd with the stories that inspired the songs. Songwriters could also perform songs as they have never been heard before.
“It’s really cool to hear the song the way the songwriter intended it,” Bates explained. “It’s neat to hear Randy Travis singing ‘Diggin’ Up Bones,’ but it’s even cooler to hear Paul Overstreet sing a verse that never made it on the album.”
Speaking of Overstreet, this accomplished songwriter will be receiving a high honor at this year’s festival. This Vancleave native will be the first artist to be inducted into the Mississippi Songwriters Alliance’s Songwriter Hall of Fame.
In addition to writing for Randy Travis, Overstreet has penned songs for Blake Shelton, Kenny Chesney and Keith Whitley, and has also released his own albums, including 2018’s “Somewhere in the Caribbean.” Bates feels Overstreet’s long list of songs and accomplishments makes a natural choice for this honor.
“Paul is an unbelievable writer, singer and performer,” Bates said. “He’s a Nashville Hall of Famer and has won Grammys. He was BMI’s ‘Songwriter of the Year’ for five straight years. That’s never been done before or since. We’re excited that kind of talent can come from here, and we can celebrate it.”
When the festival first started, Bates says the biggest challenge was getting people involved. With the festival pulling 4,000 to 6,000 people in recent years, the festival’s newest challenge is finding the venues to fit those in attendance. This year, the festival alone will feature 125 artists in 13 different venues. However, Bates says there are a number of businesses and sponsors wanting to be involved. As the Mississippi Songwriters Festival goes into the future, Bates says there is another aspect of it he would like to see grow.
“I would like for it to be bigger, with more Nashville and West Coast songwriters,” Bates said. “We don’t always have a lot of those folks, but it helps to have a few. From bottom to top, you want to see every aspect of the craft. You want to hear local artists, but you also want to hear some people who have written some great songs for other people that you know.”
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