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 get the chance to hear from the writers themselves at the Yellowstone Songwriter Festival, which begins Thursday, Sept.8 in Cody.
For three days, 20 songwriters from around the country will be converging on Cody for a weekend of concerts, small listening sessions, interviews and collaborations with other writers.
“They’re going to perform 26 different shows,” said producer Mike Booth. “Everything from on-stage shows at different venues in downtown Cody to interviews at a coffee place in the morning, late night open mics.”
Booth told Cowboy State Daily that there are two levels of songwriters that will be showcased at the event – the “hit” songwriters, whose tunes are familiar to listeners across the country, and the “rising stars.”
Hit songwriters on the docket 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.
Also scheduled to appear is Leslie Satcher, whose song “Troubadour” was recorded by George Strait; Rob Crosby from Nashville, who penned “Concrete Angel,” a heart-wrenching story about child abuse that was recorded by Martina McBride; and Stephanie Davis.
“She is coming from Austin,” said Booth, “and her claim to fame is, she toured for a long time with Garth Brooks. She also wrote ‘We Shall Be Free.’”
The other hit songwriter scheduled to attend is Gary Nicholson, who was recently named to the Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame.
“I can’t tell you how many (of Nicholson’s) songs have been recorded,” Booth said. “Everybody from Bonnie Raitt to Vince Gill. But his biggest song was ‘One More Last Chance’ (recorded by Gill).”
Booth said many of the hit songwriters who are on this year’s schedule know each other and have played together in the past.
“They play together in Nashville once in a while,” he said, “and their songs are so big that they will accompany each other, because they all know the melodies and chords.”
Booth said festival-goers will have a chance to see the hitmakers perform together at evening concerts throughout the weekend.
“They will perform all together Thursday night at the (Buffalo Bill Center of the West),” he said. “And then three will play Friday night at the Cody Auditorium – Gary plays both nights, but two other people will play with him on Saturday night.”
“There are 14 rising stars coming in,” Booth said, hailing from Montana, Wyoming, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, and Colorado. “These are folks that have never had a song recorded, but they’re touring professional musician singer-songwriters that will perform on stage together.”
Booth said that songwriters from Wyoming will get their own showcase, a free concert at the bandshell in Cody’s City Park on Saturday at noon. Jordan Smith from Lander and Dave Munsick and Sarah Sample from Sheridan are all featured performers for the Saturday showcase.
Raising Money For Charity
Booth explained that a portion of the 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 couple scholarships over at Northwest Community College, and then gave some money to Wapiti Valley School’s after school program for new instruments,” he said. “So we’ll do the same thing this year. Meeteetse Schools is on our list.”
Booth added that the local sponsors make it possible to put on the festival, so more money can go to charity.
“The Cody community has just been amazing to us, with sponsors and paid individual patrons,” he said. “The downtown business community has been very supportive of us in our efforts. So we’re very blessed 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 Songwriter Festival builds off the success of last year’s event, which was organized by Teresa Muhic.
“We expected it to be a building process, to get the word out, and also to educate people on what a songwriter festival is,” she said. “(It’s) another version of a music festival, but really, presentation of the songs that are written by that songwriter, and the stories behind it.”
Muhic said the feedback she received after last year’s event was very positive.
“Everybody that I talked to after the fact was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I didn’t understand, and now I do,’” she said. “And it was fabulous.”
Muhic told Cowboy State Daily that the sponsors from last year were also impressed.
“Our sponsors were like, ‘Yep, sign me up next year, and we want to go up a step,’” she said.
The Yellowstone Songwriter Festival kicks off Thursday at 5 p.m. at the Chamberlin Inn, after which different singer/songwriters will be featured simultaneously at other venues in downtown Cody, including the Irma Hotel and the Silver Dollar Bar.
“One thing that we’re really excited about is being able to involve multiple venues,” said Muhic. “It brings in different parts of our downtown community, and includes lots of people. And it’s fun for people to be able to move from one venue to the other.”
Booth said that at any given time, there may be two to three songwriters onstage together at locations throughout downtown Cody.
“They just take turns telling stories and playing their music,” Booth said.
Music and conversations will continue throughout the weekend, culminating in evening concerts all three nights at the Cody Auditorium, with the spotlight on the major hit-making songwriters.
Songwriter Festival Vs. Concert
Booth pointed out that a songwriter festival is much different than a concert by a polished and rehearsed entertainer.
“George Strait is an entertainer,” Booth said. “He’s one of the best entertainers in the world, and when he sings ‘Troubadour,’ it’s produced, it’s rehearsed. But when you hear that same song from the songwriter that created it, it’s just magic. It’s Leslie’s. It’s her baby. It came to her from scratch, and it’s just a different experience to hear those songs from the songwriter.”
Booth said that the stories behind the songs are part of the draw for the audience.
“Often they’ll tell how their song got to be a number one,” he said. “And then they’ll play some of their favorite songs they wrote that you may not have heard but you go, ‘Oh my god, that was amazing. How come nobody cut that?’”
Muhic pointed out that the “listening room” atmosphere of the songwriter festival is very appealing to many in the audience.
“We do ask the audience for their attention,” she said. “And when they hear the words to the song, they hear the melody, they hear the story behind it, they understand the emotion and love where this person came from when they were writing the song.”
“Comments I got from multiple people were like, ‘That’s kind of spoiled me now,’” said Muhic. “‘That’s the way I want to listen to music.’”
“We really think that once you see it once, you’ll come back year in and year out,” Booth said.