Band: 251 Songwriter Sessions
Date: Saturday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m.
Venue: The Merry Widow, 51 S. Conception St., themerrywidow.net
Tickets: Call 251-378-8020 for more info
The denizens of the Azalea City are invited to witness the creation of the 251 Songwriter Sessions. Pulling its format from a Nashville-style songwriters’ round, this show will fill The Merry Widow’s stage with area songwriters such as Johnny Hayes, Alexa Burroughs, Stephen Sylvester and Laurie Anne Armour. Last-minute addition Bronson Webb will open the evening.
This show will cycle through the participating artists’ songs as well as the stories behind them. The 251 Songwriter Sessions is the brainchild of Sylvester and Armour.
When Lagniappe Music Editor Steve Centanni spoke with these two songwriters, he discovered the idea for this show began at a regional audition for the televised vocal competition “American Idol.”
Steve Centanni: What inspired you two to put this show together?
Stephen Sylvester: I did “American Idol” last year. One of the things that is a blessing that came from that was meeting all these musicians from all over the country. Many of them had spent time in Nashville doing songwriting and songwriting shows. They said one of their favorite things about the city was the songwriter rounds, where all the artists who have written all these songs for people get together and perform them. They said it was always an amazing thing to hear people play the songs. I thought, “Why can’t we do that here?” I reached out to Laurie Anne to see if she would be interested in helping me put that together, and thankfully, she was.
Laurie Anne Armour: Heck yeah!
Centanni: So, Laurie, what did you think when Stephen came to you with this idea?
Armour: I was immediately just super excited. I jump at the opportunity to make any kind of music happen in Mobile, especially when it’s kind of a new event. We don’t have a lot of songwriter rounds. We have The Peoples Room of Mobile, which provides an intimate setting for songwriters, but as far as the Nashville-style round, we’ve had a couple of shows like that in the past. This is something that we want to continue on a monthly basis or a bimonthly basis. We want to bring in local songwriters, but we want to expand it for other songwriters just passing through to come in and join the round. It’s turned into something really cool.
Centanni: What was the selection process like for this first round?
Sylvester: This time around, it was mostly just people that I know who have a lot of original music around here. When Laurie Anne and I first talked about it, we said, “Let’s reach out to people we know and see who’s available.” We were hoping that it would take off, and if we were able to do it again and again and do it as a regular thing in Mobile, then we’d get a taste of everybody who writes songs around here. The process in picking the first four was basically getting people we know.
Centanni: What’s been some of the challenges?
Sylvester: Well, finding a venue was kinda interesting.
Armour: Yeah, but after we landed on The Merry Widow, Chris [Schwall], the guy who owns it, was super helpful and super involved. Honestly, the only challenge that I foresee is just getting people into the building for this show. You’ve got pandemic challenges, and this particular night, there’s two other major shows happening in downtown Mobile. There’s the [Red Clay] Strays at Veet’s and Abe Partridge and a couple of others are doing a round at The Peoples Room. We just hope to get people to come out and enjoy this and get it going again.
Centanni: What’s the format going to be like?
Sylvester: Well, it’s going to be just like one of those rounds in Nashville, where you have three or four songwriters onstage. Everybody takes a turn going down the line. They tell their story about a particular song that they’ve written. They perform it and go down the line with each person. So, you get different flavors of songs and songwriters. Obviously, everybody performs their songs differently and tells stories differently. If anybody’s there primarily to see Johnny [Hayes] or Laurie Anne, they’ll get to see that, but they’ll also get the experience of other songwriters and how they do their music. We’ll do two sets like that with an intermission in between.
Centanni: What do you hope that your audiences take away from these sessions?
Armour: I hope that they are able to come and just really appreciate Mobile as a music city. There’s so much talent in this city. Relatively speaking, we’re not that big of a city, but the music that surrounds this place is just incredible. I also really hope that other songwriters come to this show and get inspired to write and also perform in one of these sets and share their music with everybody.
Sylvester: I don’t think there’s any better way to understand the soul of an artist than to listen to the songs that they’ve written and to get to hear them perform it and tell the story where it came from. That’s why we listen to songwriters, right? We’re trying to know something about the person and listen to this beautiful work of art that they’ve created or are trying to create. That’s why I go to songwriter shows. I want people to experience what somebody’s created.
Centanni: You mentioned other people wanting to get on the lineup. How would somebody get in on a future session?
Armour: We haven’t really talked about this, but I have an idea. I was thinking that if there are songwriters who come to this show, then we can have a simple sign-up sheet in order to get in contact with them and listen to their music and get them on a bill at some point.
Sylvester: That sounds awesome. I was thinking that it would be an informal process, but that’s right up our alley. There’s not going to be an audition process or anything. I don’t want to be the person to judge if somebody should be a part of this.
There’s a young guy named Bronson Webb who is opening up for us. He saw one of the posters and tracked me down. He was like, “Hey, can I try to get involved with this?” I told him that we already had the lineup, and he was like, “Let me play a song for you.” I was so impressed by him and his tenacity in doing this that I was like, “Dude, we have to have you come open up for the show.” Anybody who is serious about us wanting to perform our music and tracks us down, we’re going to say, “Absolutely, you can be a part of this.”
Centanni: Where do you want this to go from here?
Sylvester: Ideally, we’d like to see this happen every month. I don’t know if there’s enough people to come to the show, but if there were, I’d love to do this every month and have it be a series. Honestly, I’m not sure. We’ll have to find out after the 23rd.
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