Event: 2nd Annual Bay Area
Date: Aug. 7-8 starting at 6:45 p.m. daily
Venue: Old 27 Grill, 19992 Highway 181, www.old27grill.com
For many years, Old 27 Grill has attracted people to the back roads of Fairhope to enjoy delicious food and local sounds in a throwback Baldwin County roadhouse. Last year, owner William “Bill E.” Stitt, brought a group of regional songwriters together for the inaugural Bay Area Songwriters Festival. The event’s success led Stitt to organize a repeat this year. Stitt isn’t afraid to let the world know he’s not musically inclined. His artistic side focuses on food, especially one pork product in particular.
“I’m a food guy who loves great music,” Stitt said. “I can’t play a damn thing, other than a flat-top and a fryer, but I love good music and things that just happen. Bacon is my goal.”
Many may wonder what bacon has to do with a songwriters’ festival. Stitt has been crafting his own brand of small-batch bacon, which is used by 12 local chefs in regional restaurants such as the Noble South and Moe’s Original BBQ. While its taste is the main reason this bacon is embraced by the local culinary scene, Stitt has given his slices a musical edge that puts it in a class by itself: Each pound of bacon is serenaded by a songwriter.
“Everybody knows serenaded bacon tastes better than regular old bacon,” Stitt said.
Old 27 Grill’s stage has gone through years of evolution. Stitt wanted to create a stage that’s user friendly for both small solo or duo acts and full bands. He sought input from the many acts that have graced the Old 27 Grill’s stage, getting musicians’ views on what kind of equipment would best accommodate both the performers and the venue. Ultimately, Stitt met his goal, using simple equipment that produces the best sound. Stitt is just as proud of his stage as he is of his bacon.
“I’ve got this really cool venue, and I’ve got the stage set up to where anybody can just come and plug in,” he said. “We’re seeing, every day, somebody who’s pretty well-known all the way down to some kid who’s just starting out, and they walk in and hook up and start pickin’ and grinnin’.”
The Bay Area Songwriters Festival will feature four rounds of music over two days. Each round will consist of three regional songwriters. Each round will perform as a solo act but then they’ll perform together. But Stitt noted that the crowd also can expect the unexpected. He anticipates a number of musicians not featured on the bill will take the stage and jam along with the featured songwriters.
“It’s very open,” Stitt said. “The cool thing is that when you look out in the crowd, you don’t just see people eating and drinking. You see people eating and drinking with guitar cases. That just means that we’re doing something right.”
The first day will feature Bruce Jones, Steve Wilkerson, Brenda Bledsoe, Johnny Barbato, Mackie Lister and Jude Mansur. This will be Mansur’s first experience with such an event. She’s been entertaining crowds with not only her extensive repertoire of covers that she describes as “a light mix of music spanning 50 years that includes pop, country, rock and folk” but also a collection of original songs. While in her teens, Mansur first entertained the idea of becoming a professional musician. Like many songwriters, she had dreams of traveling to Nashville to peddle her creative wares. Even though she never made it to the Music City, Mansur still penned songs reflecting her own experience and those of others.
“I write from the heart,” Mansur explained. “I don’t have many polished, finished songs, but the ones that are finished that I do perform are about the other side of pain. It could be the recovery side of pain.”
Her audience at the Bay Area Songwriters Festival will enjoy songs such as “Here in Mississippi,” a Hurricane Katrina commemoration about trying to grow stronger in the wake of terrible loss. “On the Water” is a musical tale of a 17-year-old’s rite of passage. Of course Mansur’s original songs also include ones about love, but from a different angle. Love songs typically tell stories of unrequited love from the perspective of the one who desires the relationship. Mansur has taken a different approach.
“I’ve always been on the side where someone has loved me, but the more experiences in love that you get, sometimes you’re not on the side where someone shares the same feelings,” Mansur said.
Of all the aspects of the festival, Mansur looks forward to the camaraderie with her fellow musicians. She is also looking forward to collaborating with the songwriters with whom she will share her round. Mansur does not mind stepping out of the spotlight and backing other musicians. She likens her ideal experience to acting as a musical backdrop.
Ultimately, the Bay Area Songwriter’s Festival comes back to Stitt’s homemade, serenaded bacon. Stitt aims to have his small-batch bacon sold in regional grocery stores. Ultimately, he would like to package the pork product an CD consisting of 10 to 12 songs from the artists who serenaded these pounds and pounds of bacon. Stitt also wants the artists who musically enhanced his bacon to receive a sticker that reads, “I serenaded bacon at the Old 27 Grill.”
“Nothing would make me happier than 10 years from now hearing some musician say, ‘One of my first gigs was serenading bacon at the Old 27 Grill,’” Stitt said.