By: Terry Rader
On June 15 there will be no cover charge and no cover songs at the Gate City Songwriters Showcase. Seven singer-songwriters are just a small part of the Triad’s future original music scene being birthed in a fast-growing underground movement. From soul-pop piano to Americana from the garage to acoustic guitar and harmonica, there will be something for everyone.
You may find some new favorite songs and a new place to call home, just as I have. When I first discovered Gate City Songwriters, I felt intimidated by the wealth of talent and everyone who is far more experienced than myself, a newly emerging singer-songwriter. Yet, these artists are all down to earth, willing to share and very humble in their various levels of mastery.
Bryan Toney and Bryan McFarland, co-founders of Gate City Songwriters circle, met at HQ Greensboro one day and began brainstorming on a weekly songwriting circle.
McFarland started talking about how he’d like to have space for local songwriters to meet. Toney told him that he knew of just the place and it was right around the corner. They walked over together and met with Adam Carlin, who runs the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Greensboro Project Space. Carlin told them that the songwriting circle is one example of exactly what GPS is all about. Toney said they were so happy that Carlin “really got” what they wanted to do. His efforts in getting the space through UNCG allowed GCS to happen.
That was last fall of 2017. Now, in the spring of 2018, the GCS circle has seen more than 30 singer-songwriters return randomly to sing and play their songs, guitars, keyboards, harmonicas and more every Sunday (except the second Sunday of the month). They all appreciate having a safe place where they can share their most intimate work, bring old songs out of the closet and test or practice new ones without the pressure of deadlines or burden of prompts. This circle has seen a lot of incredibly accomplished and even recorded local talent, including Jeff Tillman, Dean Driver, Doug Baker, Jack Gorham, Bryan Toney, Jeff Wall, Jim Herrmann, Bryan McFarland, Lyn Koonce, Ken Mickey and more.
“We are creating a community of singer-songwriters who do only original music,” Toney said. “GCS is part of a larger community of singer-songwriters including ‘Doodad Farm.’ The owners, Dean and Laurel Driver host a songwriting circle on the last Thursday of every month. ‘Stage 11 House Concerts’ hosted by Jim Herrmann and Linda Erday, are held on the second Sunday of every month. They have an optional open mic for original songs after the performances, which often include national acts.”
“It’s a source of inspiration for talent with everyone creating and sharing their songs and music,” said Jamie Anderson, full-time professor of Chinese History at UNCG. “This circle has changed my music. I didn’t have the confidence before, to play gigs. Now, I play mostly acoustic guitar and harmonica. I used to write and play with a band. Now, I do it for myself. It has also connected me to a new cultural center, with UNCG’s Greensboro Project Space.”
Bryan McFarland, Salem Presbytery’s Associate Presbyter, wanted a “grassroots songwriter-to-songwriter group” for 10 years. McFarland said he helped run the Greensboro chapter of Nashville Songwriters Association International before he co-founded GCS with Brian Toney in October 2017.
“We wanted to have a place where songwriters could come together and work on the craft of songwriting and hone each other,” McFarland said.
McFarland said he shelved his songwriting for five years when he took a sabbatical to explore different kinds of music. After a songwriting camp with John McCutcheon, McFarland realized “if I wasn’t writing every day, I wasn’t meditating on a daily basis.”
“GCS is not a performance thing,” McFarland said. “Take Jamie Anderson for instance. He’s a beautiful case in point; he had been playing for years, just not doing his own stuff. This circle gave him a place to explore his craft and now he’s performing live shows. It does my heart beautiful to be able to do this for my fellow singer/songwriters and for myself.”
Carlin said GPS allows for artists to come network, share material and is “an excellent example of programming that builds community in real time.”
He said the best use for an art center is a “generative space” that not only exhibits community talents, “but aids in building it.”
“The themes of the three GSO City Market events this season are Past, Present, and Future,” Carlin said. “Having the ‘Gate City Songwriters Showcase’ during the Future GSO City Market on June 15 hints at the fact that this isn’t just a group of musicians coming together for a concert, but is a cohort that is intended to continuously generate members, relationships, and music, far into the future.”
The showcase is happening rain or shine, at UNCG’s Greensboro Project Space located at 219 W. Lewis St. in Greensboro on June 15. Parking is free after 6 p.m.
Gate City Songwriters Showcase schedule:
• 6-6:30 p.m.: Greg Brown, Jazzy Acoustic Folk
• 6:30-7 p.m.: William Nesmith, Soul-pop
• 7-7:30 p.m.: Doug Baker, Songs from an Overactive Mind
• 7:30-8 p.m.: Bobbie Needham, New Retro Swing & Blues
• 8-8:30 p.m.: Robert Pipkin, Energetic Acoustic Blues & Rock
• 8:30-9 p.m.: John Stevens, Alternative Folk Music from the Heart
• 9-9:30 p.m.: Jamie Anderson, Americana from the Garage