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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Have you ever wanted to hear the stories behind songs like Garth Brooks’ “We Shall Be Free” or Martina McBride’s “Concrete Angel”? How about George Strait’s hit song “Troubadour” or Vince Gill’s “One More Last Chance”?
Fans will have the chance to hear the writers themselves at the Yellowstone Songwriters Festival, which kicks off Thursday, September 8 in Cody.
For three days, 20 songwriters from across the country will converge on Cody for a weekend of concerts, small listening sessions, interviews and collaborations with fellow songwriters.
“They’re going to do 26 different shows,” producer Mike Booth said. “Everything from live performances at various venues in downtown Cody, to interviews in a coffee shop in the morning, to open mics late at night.”
Booth told the Cowboy State Daily that there are two tiers of songwriters who will be showcased at the event – “hit” songwriters, whose tunes are familiar to listeners across the country, and the “rising stars”.
Successful songwriters include James Dean Hicks, who wrote the country song “Goodbye Time”, which was a number one hit for Conway Twitty, and later recorded by Blake Shelton.
Leslie Satcher, whose song “Troubadour” was recorded by George Strait, is also set to appear; Nashville’s Rob Crosby, who wrote “Concrete Angel,” a heartbreaking story about child abuse that was recorded by Martina McBride; and Stephanie Davis.
“She’s from Austin,” Booth said, “and her claim to fame is that she toured for a long time with Garth Brooks. She also wrote ‘We Shall Be Free.’
The other successful songwriter scheduled to attend is Gary Nicholson, who was recently inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
“I can’t tell you how many (Nicholson) songs have been recorded,” Booth said. “Everyone from Bonnie Raitt to Vince Gill. But his biggest song was ‘One More Last Chance’ (recorded by Gill).
Booth said many of the successful songwriters featured on this year’s program know each other and have played together in the past.
“They play together in Nashville from time to time,” he said, “and their songs are so great that they back each other up, because they know all the melodies and chords.”
Booth said festival-goers will have the chance to see the hitmakers perform together at evening concerts throughout the weekend.
“They will all be performing together Thursday night at the (Buffalo Bill Center of the West),” he said. “And then three will play Friday night at Cody Auditorium – Gary plays both nights, but two other people will play with him Saturday night.”
“There are 14 rising stars coming in,” said Booth, who hails from Montana, Wyoming, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas and Colorado. “These are people who have never recorded a song, but they are touring professional singer-songwriters who will perform together on stage.”
Booth said Wyoming songwriters will have their own showcase, a free concert at Cody’s City Park Bandstand on Saturday at noon. Lander’s Jordan Smith and Sheridan’s Dave Munsick and Sarah Sample are all featured performers for the Saturday showcase.
Raising funds for charity
Booth explained that a portion of ticket sales will go to support local music programs. In their inaugural year, he said they gave away $5,000.
“Last year we gave a few scholarships to Northwest Community College, and then we donated money to the Wapiti Valley School after-school program to buy new instruments,” he said. “So we will do the same this year. Meeteetse Schools is on our list.
Booth added that local sponsors help organize the festival, so more money can go to charity.
“The Cody community has been amazing for us, with paid individual sponsors and patrons,” he said. “The downtown business community has been very supportive of our efforts. So we’re very lucky that way.
Second annual event
This year’s event is produced by the Rocky Mountain Songwriter Festivals, a nonprofit organization based in Red Lodge, Montana. The organization produces similar festivals in Red Lodge and Whitefish, Montana.
This second year of the Yellowstone Songwriters Festival builds on the success of last year’s event, hosted by Teresa Muhic.
“We expected it to be a building process, to get the word out and also to educate people about what a songwriter festival is,” she said. “(It’s) another version of a music festival, but really a presentation of the songs written by this songwriter and the stories behind them.”
Muhic said the feedback she received after last year’s event was overwhelmingly positive.
“Everyone I spoke to afterwards was like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t get it, and now I get it,'” she said. “And it was fabulous.”
Muhic told the Cowboy State Daily that last year’s sponsors were also impressed.
“Our sponsors were like, ‘Yeah, sign me up next year, and we want to take it up a notch,'” she said.
The Yellowstone Songwriters Festival kicks off Thursday at 5 p.m. at the Chamberlin Inn, after which various singer-songwriters will perform simultaneously at other downtown Cody venues, including the Irma Hotel and the Silver Dollar Bar. .
“One thing that we’re really excited about is being able to involve multiple sites,” Muhic said. “It involves different parts of our downtown community and includes a lot of people. And it’s fun for people to be able to move from place to place.
Booth said that at any one time, there could be two to three songwriters together on stage at locations in downtown Cody.
“They take turns telling stories and playing their music,” Booth said.
The music and conversations will continue throughout the weekend, culminating in evening concerts every three nights at the Cody Auditorium, with the spotlight on top hit songwriters.
Songwriters Festival Vs. Concert
Booth pointed out that a songwriter’s festival is very different from a concert given by a polished, rehearsed artist.
“George Strait is an artist,” Booth said. “He’s one of the best artists in the world, and when he sings ‘Troubadour’, it’s produced, it’s rehearsed. But when you hear that same song from the songwriter who created it, It’s just magical. It’s Leslie’s. It’s his baby. It came to him from scratch, and it’s just a different experience to hear those songs from the songwriter.
Booth said the stories behind the songs are part of the draw for the audience.
“A lot of times they talk about how their song got to number one,” he said. “And then they’ll play some of their favorite songs that they wrote that you might not have heard, but you’re like, ‘Oh my god, that was amazing. How come no one cut this?
Muhic pointed out that the “listening room” atmosphere of the songwriter festival is very attractive to many viewers.
“We ask the public for their attention,” she said. “And when they hear the lyrics to the song, they hear the melody, they hear the story behind it, they understand the emotion and the love that person was coming from when they were writing the song.”
“The comments I got from several people were like, ‘It’s spoiled me a bit now,'” Muhic said. “‘That’s how I want to listen to music.'”
“We really believe that once you’ve seen it once, you’ll come back year after year,” Booth said.
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