Day four! My absolute best day of the conference yet. I was up until 3am last night watching private showcases at the hotel, so the 8:30am alarm I had set was not very pretty this morning I assure you. However “The Inside and Out of Songwriting” workshop with John Vezner and Rich Warren was enough for me to drag my sleepy self out of bed and pop a few B12’s to get me going.
This was the reason I had originally applied for a FACTOR grant to attend the Folk Alliance International Conference – songwriting development! Although I have attended a number of great workshops over the last few days, it seemed all the songwriting focused workshops that I really wanted to attend all fell on the same day. Thankfully, at different times so I could attend all of them! This particular workshop was an interesting mix because John Vezner is a grammy award winning songwriter, and Rich Warren a well known radio discjockey. Here were two valuable and differing perspectives on what makes a good “radio friendly” song. These two had a ton of great stuff to share and the room was packed and attentive.
After a quick breakfast I was on to the next workshop “Object Writing” with Linda McRea. This was a fantastic workshop because instead of just sitting and listening, we actually got to write! Linda started off the class with some free writing centered around the senses. We were given random topics and had to just write whatever came to us for a 5 minute, 10 minute, 1 minute and 2 minute interval. We wrote about spotlights, fingernails, curtains and windowsills. A number of people shared excerpts of their writing. I just listened. Some of their free writing was incredible. This is a concept I have experimented with before in workshops, but definitely a valuable exercise to re-introduce to my songwriting process. Especially when I’ve got a song idea in mind, but can’t quite seem to get it out on the page.
While I was waiting for my third and final workshop of the day, I ended up having a truly lovely chat with a local Memphis artist named Stephen Hudson. He has been making the Lifetime Achievement Award Sculptures every year for the past five or so years for the Folk Alliance Association. I sifted through his paintings and he told me the story behind each one. His work was so beautiful that I wanted to buy one. I ended up buying four! Two Memphis scenes – one gorgeous and intricate painting of a park with a blossoming tree, and the other of Second and Beale street and BB King’s night club. The two others were of a quaint little church in a farmer’s field, and an old fashioned car in a friend’s country garage. I plan on keeping two and framing them as a keepsake of my Memphis trip, and giving the other two to my mum and sister.
After my exciting purchases I went to join the “Tony Moore Songwriting Masterclass”. Now my schooling for music should have prepared me that “Masterclass” meant more of an interactive workshop, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to sit down and work on my song one on one with Tony Moore (played with Iron Maiden, Cutting Crew, established the Kashmir Klub & the Bedford in London – where Damien Rice & KT Tunstall got their start – bloody intimidating much?). At first when Tony was talking about his history in the music industry and the people he has worked with I said to myself “abbbbsolutely not, nope, not getting up there and playing my songs, not gonna happen”. Then I watched and listened as he worked with the other writers and it became clear that he was really friendly, honest, and easy going. He was also very generous with his time. The other workshops were about an hour to an hour and a half max. Tony’s class went over 3 hours!
After everyone else had their turn with Tony, and most of them had left to other workshops or whatnot it was finally my turn. I got up there, sat down at the piano and played him “Prairie Belle”. Boyyyyyy I was nervous, but I didn’t make any mistakes and I felt like I had decent control of my voice considering my nerves. After I was done, Tony went on to tell me how much he loved my song. That is reminded him of Randy Edelman and Mark Cohn (who wrote “Walking in Memphis” if you can believe it after all my references to that song lately). He gave me some incredible positive feedback, and some very valuable and earnest advice on minor tweaks I could make to make the song that much more powerful. I was just so pleased to have someone like him first of all just sit and spend time with me in a songwriting context and secondly appreciate and understand my song.
After all that excitement, and if that wasn’t enough already to pack away for a rainy day Chloe and I went to Chef Phillipe’s restaurant at the historic Peabody Hotel downtown. This was dining at it’s absolute finest I tell you. I would like to think that I’ve been to some very fancy gourmet restaurants, but they have nothing on the Peabody. Chloe and I had our OWN two waiters that stood whenever we stood, pushed our chairs in for us, gave us brand new napkins if we left the table and came back. It was the most upscale and high fallutin’ restaurant of my life! Not only was the service impeccable the food was also first class all the way. We each had a three course meal, mine consisting of Foie Gras two ways – one as a terrine in a poached apple on brioche with a candied crust and the other portion was served grilled on top of thinly sliced apple. For my entree I had King Salmon on spinach and caramelized onions, with a dijon sauce. To finish Chloe & I shared a cheese plate and a peanut butter chocolate souffle. We also shared a delectable bottle of Pouilly Fuisse Michel de Tour la Rosse from France.
On top of all that, we then returned to the hotel and listened to another entire evening of phenomenal music. Caleb Hawley, more of the Cumberland Collective, Megan Burt, Steve Dawson, Kat Danser, the Backyard Betties, Aly Macrae & Annie Grace. It seriously never ends here!
Can I just say, what a whirlwind of musical madness these last four days have been. I feel sad that it has to end. There are some Memphis tours tomorrow but it’s now past 3am and I will most likely sleep until noon. I may be meeting up with my new Scottish friends later in the evening, since we all don’t leave until Monday and most of my Alberta cohorts leave town tomorrow.
My brain will take a while to process everything I’ve seen, felt and heard this week. One thing’s for sure, Memphis will go down in history as one of the most magical musical trips of my life.
This turned into a novel. Sorry about that, there’s just too much to say tonight.