36th Annual Frank Brown International Songwriters' Festival Held November 11th - 15th
Legendary characters, infamous stories, notes of music across the gamut of genres and a plethora of performances across multiple venues can only mean one thing -- the Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival.
This year’s festival showcased performances from Grammy award-winning songwriters and plenty of up-and-coming talent. Andy Haynes, director of the Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival (FBISF), explained “This year we were striving to do something good for the community by being one of the first events that wasn’t cancelled.” Haynes described the ambiance of this event and why it was important to continue. “The FBISF is nothing short of a magical experience,” he explained. “I am aware of long lasting friendships -- songwriter to songwriter and songwriter to attendee -- that have been forged as a result of being here. All the venues were intimate so you could be up close and personal with the individual who actually created the song. Most times the songs come from real life experiences which the songwriter shared with the attendees.”
Among the many locations from Pensacola, Perdido Key, Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, the Flora-Bama featured performances in the lounge's dome, tent, and main room (a quiet, listening room and environment), as well as part of the Sunday Central Church Service at Flora-Bama.
The 36th annual festival had been shortened due to a difficult year but still showcased more than 100 songwriters. This year's line-up included the following: Dean Dillion, Sugarcane Jane, Rock Killough, Casper McWade, Mark Sherrill, Runaway Home, The Krickets, Bo Roberts, Tham Bresh, Bobby Keel, Keith Stegall, Rhonda Hart, Jim Moose Rob Aldridge, Bobby Tomberlin, Ross Newell and many more,
Haynes said that these men and woman are what made the festival so special. "The songwriters love being a part of this festival -- it's the oldest of its kind in the country," he said. "The festival has been blessed to have had most of the prolific songwriters of the past 50 years grace its stages. We've had many Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame members and Grammy Award winners her over the years, as well as up and comers. The songwriters tell me they love the collaborative spirit the festival fosters. Over the years there have been a number of great songs written during the festival and all the songwriters love being in our beautiful area."
Haynes said that, in addition to the songwriters, the festival's success depends upon many people working together. "I am but a small part of a large, dedicated group of mostly volunteers who really make everything come together," he explained. "I was a volunteer for 16 years before assuming this rule in 2016. The volunteers are the hear and soul of the festival. the smiles I see on the faces of the attendees as well as the songwriters makes all the hard work worthwhile."
Justin Biltomen Rhonda Hart Sean Gasaway
Justin Biltomen Rhonda Hart Sean Gasaway
The festival is dedicated to the late Frank Brown, who was night watchman at the Flora-Bama for 20 years; he was known and loved by all and was 91 years old when he retired, according to frankbrownsongjwriters.com. Brown was featured on Paul Harvey's syndicated radio show "The Rest of the Story." During his security guard hours, he wore a pair of matching revolvers slung low, but he never had to use them. All the regulars knew and respected him. Brown was the last person the performers saw at closing time. He was 93 years old when he passed away in 1988, and he left his legacy in the festival -- to ensure that it continues year after year. The atmosphere just seems to inspire collaboration and inspiration.
Frank Brown International Foundation for Music sends songwriters into schools to make presentations where students are introduced to the wonders of songwriting. It awards scholarship funds to college bound Baldwin and Escambia County high school students who display a serious interest in music.
The foundation also supplies instruments to schools in an effort to support music programs. Haynes divulged that, "part of the mission statement of the Frank Brown Foundation for Music is 'to reach into schools to enrich lives and encourage creativity through music.' The festival accomplishes this with our In Schools Outreach program where we send songwriters into schools to conduct workshops on the art and craft of songwriting, as well as through the scholarships we offer." He explained the evolution of the scholarship process. "The methods of awarding scholarship funds have varied over the years," he recalled. "Last year we solicited essays from area college bound high school seniors with an interest in music, asking them to share with us the ways music has affected their lives. The essays we received were compelling." And the results have touched many lives, he said, "We were able to provide money to support the academic pursuits of students in Baldwin County, Alabama as well as Escambia County, Florida.," he said. "With greater awareness of this program in our community and with the community's continuing and growing support, we hope to be able to offer more scholarships in the years to come."
Bobby Rush FBISF
While participants in the festival enjoy the rich history and the bright future of the event, most find themselves in awe of the organic nature of the event, according Haynes. "There have been countless times where I have heard beautiful songs for the first time at the festival, and subsequently some months later as a number-one hit on the radio," he said. "Festival founder and president, Joe Gilchrist often says 'Music makes the world a better place.' That's what the FBISF does, one song at a time.
For more information, contact Festival Coordinator Andy Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or Flora-Bama Marketing Director Jenifer Parnell at email@example.com or visit us online at www.frankbrownsongwriters.com
Photos by Dee Horton Photography