By Claire Salinas
Kay McHenry believes there is a growing community in Baton Rouge interested in original music.
Songwriting has a soft spot in McHenry’s heart, as her own son has worked hard to break into the industry and currently works for Sea Gayle Music in Nashville. To support her son’s efforts, McHenry attended the 30A Songwriters Festival in Florida every year, eventually using it as the model for Baton Rouge’s own inaugural 3rd Street Songwriter Festival.
The weekend was a success, despite the stormy weather. The festival kicked off with a listening party at The Red Dragon Listening Room, a venue McHenry thinks is one Baton Rouge’s best kept secrets.
“A lot of people don’t know about it, especially if they’re not following live original music, but Chris Maxwell runs the Red Dragon Listening Rom, and he brings in phenomenal songwriter talent and touring acts in a very quaint venue,” said McHenry. “It holds 100 folks, so you sit on the couch, and it is a true listening experience”
McHenry explained that on Friday, CJ solar and Brent Anderson took the stage, and even though they had just rolled in from Nashville after a 10-hour drive with about eight songwriters in the band, they all got up and played some songs.
The stormy weather on Saturday did unfortunately lead to the cancellation of the outdoor concert that day, but the rest of the schedule remained intact, with some acts moving inside and being performed a bit earlier.
The weather did clear up in time for The Moonshine and Music Dinner at Stroube’s.
“[It] was kind of quaint with playing [instruments] at the tables, and we had different songwriters sit at some of the tables,” said McHenry.
The day of panels and live performances downtown culminated into the Hit Writer Showcase Saturday night at the Manship Theatre. Many songwriters in the showcase hail from Louisiana, and the evening gave them a chance to reminisce about their roots, as well as share the stories behind some of their hit songs.
During the first round, Casey Kelly, Tony Haselden, and Jim McCormick took turns singing and telling the crowd the stories behind some of their hit songs. Casey Kelly, writer of George Strait’s hit song, “The Cowboy Rides Away,” kicked off the evening with an upbeat tune that was also recorded by George Strait: “You Know Me Better Than That.”
Later in the evening, Jim McCormick recounted how he was part of the team that wrote the song “Louisiana” for Tim McGraw and how, initially, “he didn’t touch it,” but after Katrina he was looking for a song to bring attention to his home state.
“His fan club president brought his attention to it, bless her heart, and he recorded it,” said McCormick.
Tony Haselden drew laughs from the crowd as he explained the next song was about men “always thinking telling a lie will work,” a fallacy illustrated by the song he then played, Collin Raye’s “That’s My Story.”
In a personal interview in the greenroom, Kelly gave his advice for songwriters trying to break into the field.
“There’s this tradition in the songwriting community of passing on what you know. People did it with me when I came along. You have to try to find anyone who knows more about it than you do,” said Kelly. “The only reason to [be in the industry] is because it’s something you just can’t help. If your entire thought is, ‘I’m going to make a million bucks and get records and all that,’ odds are that you’re going to be terribly disappointed. It’s really rough, and there are so many forces against you that you have overcome.”
The evening finished out with a second round by songwriters Brent Anderson, Phillip White and Clint Daniels.
John Patterson, a Lafayette resident, said he, “really liked hearing the writers’ voices.” “You can tell how much love, frustration and amusement is associated with a particular song by the timbre of their voices,” said Patterson. “It really heightens the impact of the music.”
McHenry explained she was motivated to organize the event because of the number of talented singers who are from Baton Rouge.
“What I learned when my son went off to Nashville was there are so many guys working in Nashville from Baton Rouge, and they would come home and play a cover gig,” said McHenry. “Hopefully this event will put more of a focus on downtown Baton Rouge as a music center, and highlight our local talent, as well as give those who have gone off a chance to perform their original works when they come home.”