Southport – A Festival with a Twist

Louisa BranscombLouisa Branscomb knows a thing or two about songwriting, for sure. And she has two Grammys, two Song of the Year trophies (IBMA and SPBGMA), nearly 200 cuts, and a long list of hits to prove it.

But her newest venture, the Southport Songwriter Festival, starting Monday in Southport, N.C., may be her most impressive creation yet. The event, in its second year, puts a fresh twist on the music festival business. It’s not just the focus on songwriting. It’s spreading the writers out across eight venues in the picturesque village. And putting the focus on building a community by working together.

The event is produced by the ScreenDoor Songwriter Alliance and the work is done by dozens of volunteers, but what attendees see, through and through, is the vision of Branscomb, its founder.

After she discovered the town, “I thought it might be a place for a new kind of songwriter festival, one with an artistic and social mission,” she said. “I believe that songs are one of the few things in life that cross individual differences and bring people together. The town is magical, and original music is magical, and I thought, ‘let’s just try it.’”

Many musical styles and genres are represented on the list of more than 70 songwriters who will perform. But bluegrass will be front and center, including a week from Saturday, when the festival’s premier event is scheduled. The event is called “Take 5,” after the number of stars that will appear that night. Indeed, the list reads like an awards ballot for IBMA or SPBGMA: Seven-time IBMA bass player of the year Missy Raines with her band, The New Hip. Three-time IBMA female vocalist of the year Claire Lynch and members of her band, and SPBGMA winners and IBMA favorites Jeanette Williams and Johnny Williams, who will be joined by Branscomb. (Those last three names alone represent more Chris Austin Songwriting Contest finalists and winners at MerleFest than can be counted on one hand.)

“I’m really honored and excited to be part of this year’s Southport Songwriter Festival,” Raines said. “Music brings people together, and the Southport Festival goes such a long way to bring the art of songwriting to the community. It’s outreach is tremendous.”

But the events are not just for and about icons of music. Among the featured performers are students from the area who participate in Branscomb’s Songwriting in the Schools program. That program recently received a huge shot in the arm in the form of a grant from the Foundation for Bluegrass Music.

And music isn’t the only art that will be featured. The performances will coincide with a visual arts showcase, the Plien Air Festival.

Southport Songwriter FestivalThe festival kicks off Monday with a songwriter workshop by indie-folk powerhouse Eliza Gilkyson and a songwriters-in-the-round performance. Tuesday and Wednesday are largely set aside for private songwriter mentoring sessions.

The music, including a mix of free and ticketed events, starts Thursday and runs through Sunday. After that, from a look at the lineup, it’s likely that everyone will need a nice, long nap.

“Nothing and no one touched by art remains the same,” Branscomb said. “If everyone goes home with one song that touched them, one new friend, or one moment of inspiration, then we will have accomplished what we set out to do.”

More information is available at the organization’s web site:

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.