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Here’s a review to get us going, from Caroline Carlson (a first-year student in the 2009-2010 cohort of the Honors College).
Caroline reviewed the October 15, 2009, Songwriters Night at Cowhill Express on the Commerce Square.
Cowhill Express hosts a songwriter’s night once a month. As a lover of song-writing myself, I was well aware of what was going on when I stepped through the doors into my now beloved Cowhill Express… or at least I thought I knew what was going on. First off, I was apparently late as I scooted past the stage with my friends, hoping I wasn’t noticed but knowing that no one can ignore a very tall girl and her friends walking right past the performers and slinking up the stairs to the second story where there was some free seating. I settled down on a not-so-comfortable bench and with a quick smile to my friends, extracted my notebook and pen from the black hole of my purse and focused my attention on the performer. Brad Davis, grammy-award winner and the organizer of this event was performing with another man. A musical piece.
It’s true that not all of the song-writers who perform have lyrics, but this man nonetheless introduced his pieces with little stories. One, I believe, about his daughter, but I can’t remember because my memory is so consumed with how fast these guys are playing their stringed instruments. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was completely jealous of their skills. My gaze shifted to the crowd below me, and for a moment I’m grateful that the house was so full tonight because it forced me up the stairs where I had a lovely view of all the spectators. An ethnographer’s goldmine. As I watch, I notice that unlike other school-organized events I had attended, every member of the audience was completely absorbed in the performance. Young and old were in that crowd… all bobbing their heads, smiling encouragingly, or whispering in awestruck tones to their neighbors. It makes me think of how supportive this group is. Everyone who is attending actually wants to be there, enjoys music, and loves hearing other people’s creativity.
The whole evening is relaxed and socially oriented. When Brad Davis gets on stage to introduce the next performer, he often tells a joke, laughs about the technological problems they’re having, or simply praises the talents of all the performers. I notice that each artist introduces their songs with a little background, a story that goes along with it, or in some cases, just whatever comes to the mind. One woman got up to perform and stated that she had been bailing hay earlier that day and got fire ants all in her clothes and was covered in bites. Not everywhere you go could you find someplace that accepted this sort of thing… and I speculate that it’s because these people actually care about personal stories, anecdotes, or jokes. This, in my mind, is what’s so wonderful about a small town. People care!
Mary K. Croft performs a song called “Monsters on Parade,” which she says she sings every year around this time. And, she adds, the crowd must participate. When she gets to the instrumental part she has the crowd make scary noises. And scary it is! An old man cackles and an old woman makes ghost noises among the various other noises that come to a crescendo when Ms. Croft nods to signal a stop. As I giggle at the silly crowd, a thought creeps into my head along with the jittery nervous feeling in my stomach. A song doesn’t have to be sad to capture emotion. This song created feelings of anticipation and fear in me even though I knew it was just a silly song. After the song finished and everyone was laughing at the fun of it all, Ms. Croft cackled like a witch and then commented, “Loosing a tooth sure makes that impression go over easier!”
The performances range from cowboys singing about barbecue to hip jazz songs to ballads to silly songs. And yet all these genres have something in common. They come from the heart! These songs aren’t necessarily meant to catch the public eye, but to share a thought, an emotion, and to connect the artist to the listener with emotion. If I can be so bold, I’d like to coin a new term for this genre. I want to call it Heartfelt music, because even though there are so many wonderfully different styles, all the styles are connected by the emotion created by the artist and brought out in the heart of the captive audience.
At a lag in the show my eyes wander around the room, up to the point over my head where there are some words written on a mirror. “We can’t spell S_CCESS without U. Look into the mirror close…” I find this profound, since everyone who performs there is usually a beginner or not well-known but has much potential. Enough potential at least to get up the guts to perform.
Part of me is sad while I watch all the talented artists as they perform, time after time. I’m sad because I feel like there are so many people out there who have a lot of talent but don’t have enough connections to get their music out there. And then I think to myself… does it really matter how popular someone is? If it’s enough to perform at a small songwriter’s event and get the appreciation of other songwriters, isn’t that what life’s about? Affecting those around you, no matter how insignificant it may seem to you? You can’t ever really tell what affect you might have on someone, and at least for today, it’s a good thing to share what you have to say with other people who will appreciate it. This is why Cowhill’s event is so special. It holds a significant meaning for those who become emotionally involved with it and experience it’s Heartfelt performers.
Read more from Caroline at her course blog http://ceetothethirdpower.wordpress.com/
English 102-Honors students will be reviewing Commerce Week on Writing events. See blogroll at http://e102.wordpress.com/
English 675 students will be reviewing Commerce Week on Writing events, as well. See blogrol at http://english675.wordpress.com/