Between sets on the Plattsburgh Bluegrass Festival’s big stage Saturday, September 14, Eric and Leigh Gibson stepped into a garage-like stall of Building 16 at the Clinton County Fairgrounds to give a songwriting workshop.
The Gibsons — both graduates of SUNY Plattsburgh and natives of Ellenburg Depot — seemed at ease as they pulled up two metal chairs in the back of the OSB-lined room. These 2012 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Entertainers of the Year were surrounded by fans of all ages, including members of the SUNY Plattsburgh Bluegrass Club.
Leigh, on the right, took out a guitar from his white case, and Eric, leaving his Deering banjo backstage after the first set of the day, took out a guitar from his black, sticker-decorated case. Both were still dressed in their black concert suits as they explained how and why they write songs.
“One of my biggest thrills about doing this is getting to do original material on stage,” Eric said as he was tuning his guitar.
Playing about 70 percent of original material on stage, the Gibson Brothers continue to write songs on a regular basis — on their own, with each other, and with noteworthy musicians such as Tim O’Brien, Shawn Camp and Joe Newberry.
“It’s always a little nerve-wracking to present a song to Leigh or the rest of the band … And we’ve both learned not to pout if the other guy doesn’t like one of our original songs,” Eric said, adding that they both have to agree on a song before they record it or play it in public.
Both brothers write songs … award-winning songs. Currently, They Called It Music, written by Eric Gibson and Joe Newberry, is the No. 1 song for September on the Bluegrass Unlimited charts.
One woman in the workshop audience asked Leigh if the band would play one of his songs even if Eric didn’t like it.
“It’s called the Gibson Brothers,” Leigh replied.
“But you still do it, right?” she asked.
“No,” Leigh said. “I’m sure there are things that I’ve written that I liked better than Eric likes but he thought it was good enough to be there with other songs that are being considered for the record. Then there are the songs that he’s written or that I’ve written that the first time you hear it, that’s going to be a focus. Like They Called It Music, the record’s going to be built around that song.”
Eric and Leigh sang several songs during the songwriting workshop, including Something Comin’ to Me, a song the brothers wrote with Shawn Camp and which is on their latest album, They Called It Music.
They explained how the song was written in 2012 shortly after their father, Kelley, passed away. They weren’t in the right frame of mind to write songs, but they had to keep their songwriting appointment with Camp in Nashville. At one point, when Eric was frustrated about the process and Camp walked out of the room for a breather, he played a little bit of what became Something Comin’ to Me on the guitar.
“I wasn’t thinking about it,” Eric said. “I was just fiddling around with that melody, and he (Camp) walked back into the room and said, ‘What’s that?’”
“I said, ‘Ah, it’s nothing. It’s just something coming to me,’” Eric said. “Of course, we talked about our dad passing away. And he said, ‘You know, I’d love to get your daddy in there.’ So we got that verse in there … ‘Daddy plowed the fields and worked the land’ … So that song means something, and Leigh sings it like it means something to him.”
They didn’t finish the song in that first songwriting session with Camp.
“We framed out the first verse, but nothing was really decided or set in stone,” Leigh said. “We were coming back to Nashville a few weeks later … He said, ‘Yeah, take it home.’ I don’t think we had a lot of hope in it. But he said, ‘Let’s get back together in a couple weeks and do something, tweak it a little bit and work on it.’”
The Gibson Brothers head to Massachusetts this weekend for a couple concerts before traveling to North Carolina next week for the IBMA World of Bluegrass convention and the Sept. 26 IBMA awards ceremony. The band is nominated for eight IBMA awards, the most of any bluegrass group this year.
For more information, visit www.gibsonbrothers.com.
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