7908 Songwriter’s Festival

Oct 28, 2010 by

7908 Songwriter’s Festival

High Notes from the First Annual 7908 Aspen Songwriter’s Festival

IMG_9606-100x150Aspen, Friday, September 17: Abundant sunshine. Saturday, September 18: Lots of sunshine. Sunday, September 19: Bright sunshine, pleasant.  It was so ridiculously beautiful in the Roaring Fork that weekend that the local papers ran out of adjectives to describe the flawless fall temperatures. And so, it is a true testament to the abundance of the 7908 The Aspen Songwriter’s Festival, that festival-goers left the perfect weather and plentiful fall colors outdoors to step into the darker, cooler confines of the Wheeler Opera House.

Happily, there was plentiful scenery and ever-changing colors across the Wheeler stage, as well.  The Aspen Songwriter’s Festival, John Oates’ labor of love and dedication, kicked off Thursday afternoon with some excellent complimentary beer from Aspen Brewing Company, followed by festival opener, musical super-talent and comedic genius Mike Rayburn. The stage lights turned to green, as Wheeler Master of Ceremonies Gram Slaton introduced the musician: “he’s the original tight pair of pants, ready to rip!” Rayburn is a one-man heckler, who’s sold out Carnegie Hall and venues across the nation with a mix of music, mockery and tremendous talent. “I make fun of songs that other people have written”, said the artist, before launching into uncanny impersonations of his fellow musicians: Dan Fogelberg does AC/DC, Johnny Cash does Justin Timberlake, general boy-band bashing and, in a brave and exceptional entertainment moment, with pants rolled up and channeling Angus Young, Rayburn does AC/DC doing Dan Fogelberg.

Throughout the festival, the artists touched on the craft of songwriting and the inspiration behind their songs.  “Music is always asking us questions”, said Rayburn; “now why is that?” The New Voices Songwriters Circle  featured a round robin of songs about just about anything, from some of today’s rising, and hovering, singer-songwriter talents. Nathan McEuen played a song about being out working and wanting to be back home, with the one who makes you feel whole; Reed Waddle, with a terrific sound – a little Amos Lee, a little Brett Dennen – sang about visiting Colorado from the Florida Panhandle and marveling at the “Velveteen Skies”; Mason Reed sang about driving 37,000 miles in a 12 month period, with a smile. ‘I’ve been driving a lot this year,” said the artist from Tucson, Arizona. Jill Andrews sang about relationships and the people who break them up, and the new people who come into the mix to start new relationships: “That’s what my songs are about…they’re about globs of people”, she declared, to a room full of laughter.

Master songwriter Jeff Barry, who penned many a pop song, like  Tell Laura I Love Her and River Deep, Moutain High, wrote his first little diddy at 8 years old. “Fortunately, my mom wrote it down,” he told the audience, with a laugh.  Barry elaborated on the efficacy of a certain kind of lyric, in his Saturday afternoon songwriting workshop. “People need to relate to it. If it moves you, it’s gonna move someone else. We’re writing to the common brain and the common emotion and you need to make ‘em feel something, by the end. If you leave ‘em like you found ‘em, you blew it!”

Mountain man and roving troubadour Sam Bush joined many of the performers onstage, as did John Oates, a role model and inspiration for many of the weekend’s featured performers. North Carolina’s Tift Merritt charmed audiences with her affinity for the Wheeler’s piano, while her haunting melodies stilled the audience. She has something for the searching soul, with sad, stark lyics and moving, authentic observations on life, love and everything in-between – stuff we can all relate to and so, respond to.

The lights changed to blue and Allen Toussaint brought his sweet southern twang before the piano. The songwriting genius delighted the audience by interpreting some of his better-known songs, made famous by other artists over the years.  Piano wizard Jed “11 Fingers” Lieber and soulful songwriter Jimmy Wayne were two festival highlights. The tale of Wayne’s childhood read like a B-side country song: broken home in mobile home, brother and sister against the big bad world, homeless and living on the streets, as a teenager. He took control of his life and steered it towards a new, music-filled future and now, Jimmy Wayne is taking Nashville by storm. His hit, “Where You’re Going”, moved the audience to tears, showcasing some of the finest in relatable songwriting.

As the weekend rolled on, so did the word on the street. Fans and dedicated music lovers steadily trickled in, trading brilliant sunshine for shining moments and sparkling chandeliers. A hot scrumptious Sunday Brunch in the lobby was a lovely way to kick off Festival Sunday, followed by the outrageously talented antics of Garfunkel and Oates – a tall blond, a short brunette – putting Sex and the City-style observations to music and lyrics, and a standing ovation from the duly impressed audience. The stage then turned to purple, as Jimmy Wayne joined John Oates for a tremendous mix of soulful new lyrics and modern interpretations of pop classics.  Jed Lieber, Sam Bush, Wayne and Oates then called it a festival, with an all-star rendition of Man-Eater, 2010 style: plus chandelier, minus disco ball; roller skates optional.

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