MAY 10-14, 2017
KEY WEST, FL
In my attempt to give a quick review of each of the songwriters that we saw perform during the festival, I’ve decided the best and most concise way was to break them down individually. This first group comes from rounds at the amazingly beautiful Margaritaville Resort Sundeck. The weather was just about perfect and the umbrella drinks were flowing. We couldn’t have ordered up a better day.
JENNY GILL AT MARGARITAVILLE RESORT
Jenny Gill. Let’s just get the obvious question out of the way first. Yes, she is related to legendary country artist Vince Gill, who happens to be her father. Musical talent obviously runs in the family, but don’t think this girl is riding her Dad’s coattails. She brings it all on her own. We were fortunate enough to see Jenny play twice at the festival, the first time at the Margaritaville Resort with a giant cruise ship awaiting departure as the backdrop. The hulking ship was convenient because it blocked the beating hot sun, at least for a while. Nearing its departure time, it could have, at any given moment, pulled away, leaving the writers on the round, and the audience in a sundrenched heat, so we were simply hoping it would stick around for as long as possible.
Gill pulled out what I’m guessing are some of her best songs for this round, one of which was “Whiskey Words”. A kind of plea to “just stop” with the same tired promises a significant other always makes when they’ve had too much to drink, only to go back to their old ways when the buzz is gone. A track on her new EP, “The House Sessions” and available now to download on iTunes and cdbaby.com. This song alone is worth the price of the entire EP.
A fun song that isn’t on the EP, but hopefully will be out in the world sometime soon, is “Willie and Weed”. Jenny readily admits this one is “all about smoking pot”. Everyone seemed to love it. A catchy hook that obviously references Willie Nelson, you can’t help but love this one, no matter what your feelings are on country music or smoking Willie’s favorite plant.
Jenny Gill has her hands full with her music, a husband and a three year old son, but I think we’re going to see more of her, and if you want to hear more of her, go buy her EP. She’s the real deal, all by herself.
JEFFREY EAST AT MARGARITAVILLE RESORT
Signed to Peermusic in 2015 as a writer, Jeffrey East is one of those guys that can pen some great songs, but also has some seriously good comedic timing. Songwriter rounds are as much about the stories behind the songs as they are the songs themselves, but what really makes them special are the personalities of the writers. Those personalities can range from the very stoic to the downright hysterical. I’d place Jeffrey East somewhere in the middle, but his sense of humor is just about right for keeping a round happily moving. A Texas native (as it seems so many are) from a musical family, he played us a number called “Roller Rink”, which is about to become a cut on an upcoming Rascal Flatts album. It’s an upbeat, throwback kind of song, which reminds us of days long before cell phones and other electronic gadgets were around to keep us occupied. Hanging out at malls or roller rinks really was what we did for entertainment, and if you lived in that era, you’ll feel yourself doing a little time traveling when you hear it. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, that cruise ship backdrop? It was still hanging around. It was a bit like a game of Hot Potato. Who would be mid-song when that ship decided to blow its horn and start drifting off to sea?
LAUREN MASCITTI AT MARGARITAVILLE RESORT
If it’s possible to instantly feel “at home” with a songwriter, I might have experienced that with Lauren Mascitti. Humble and kind would best describe this Louisville, Ohio native with a voice that’s as smooth as silk. Country and gospel are her wheelhouse and she gave us a sampling of both at Margaritaville. The one that really grabbed me personally was “Play Me Like a Song”. In digging around, I found that she wrote this at 3 am one night. (I also found that she’s terrified of spiders. In fact, it seems spiders and songwriters don’t often mix, or so I’m learning. Just read on and you’ll begin to see why. For the record, they’re at the top of my phobia list too. I detest them). While most of the world was sleeping, something beautiful was created. I hope you all look for it. Her music is available in the usual downloadable places.
FIONA BEVAN AT MARGARITAVILLE RESORT
Many of you know it, many of you probably don’t. thinkcountrymusic.com began as a UK country music website, back when country music wasn’t all that cool in the UK. It was the brainchild of Annette Gibbons, who knew that country music WAS cool and that it was only a matter of time before it was going to explode in the UK. She had vision and as I type this, her website has gone international with contributors on both sides of the Atlantic. Country music artists from the UK are now being recognized in the States as well as vice versa, and one of those UK artists is Fiona Bevan. How I was only just introduced to this wonder from London in Key West I don’t know, but lucky for me, I had the opportunity to see her perform not once, but twice. Noted for writing the likes of “Little Things” for Ed Sheeran, she’s done some remarkable things in multiple genres, but don’t let all of that fool you, she doesn’t run around with an air of cool surrounding her, she’s rather warm and inviting.
Easy enough to spot in a crowd with a mane of luscious blond curls, her real draw is what she can do artistically. Playing a rented guitar as if she’d been using it for years, her fingers seem to barely touch the strings, she plays that effortlessly. “Explorers”, a song inspired by a tour in Canada is the kind of song that has so many purposes. It’s uplifting, it’s a road trip song, it’s a fun date song. It’s just FIONA. I look at her now, and I hear that song. I need her music in my life. You probably do too. Go get it, and while you’re at it, Google her name, she’s amazing.
LANCE CARPENTER AT MARGARITAVILLE RESORT
Unassuming. You’ve seen him everywhere and you didn’t know it. The guy staring down 500 boxes of cereal at Kroger wondering why there are 500 kinds of cereal in the first place. The guy jumping out of his car in East Nashville, shaking himself off because a spider ran across his dashboard. That’s Lance Carpenter. You’ve seen him everywhere and didn’t know it, yet he’s a hit songwriter. A number one hit songwriter to boot.
At Margaritaville on this salubrious (I’m using a word an old weather guy in my hometown of Buffalo loved to use to describe optimum meteorological conditions) day, Lance Carpenter pulled that number one song out for the crowd with humor. “I guess I’ll sing a girl song. I’m not a pretty girl, so imagine a pretty girl like that”, as he pointed to a girl in the crowd. He then broke out into the Kelsea Ballerini number one hit, “Love Me Like You Mean It”. Naturally, this was instantly recognizable and everyone loved it. If you love that, you’ll easily love more Lance Carpenter and should follow him on Spotify. His EP, “Mustang” is my new favorite, go check it out and follow him on all forms of social media to keep up.
KELLY ARCHER AT MARGARITAVILLE RESORT
I’m usually a pretty good judge of character, and I’ve written about enough female artists now that I’d love to throw a girls’ night out on my patio and invite the ones I think would be fun to have over. I’m adding Kelly Archer to my guest list. She started her number one song with a joke, which was just clean enough to tell in mixed company, and just crude enough to tell in a venue that served adult beverages. I like her. So with that bit of comic relief, she mentioned that her first number one hit came around for a guy you might know by the name of Brett Young. The song? “Sleep Without You”. A guy song. In sharp comparison to Lance Carpenter’s “girl song”. They bounced off each other well with these two songs going back to back, and as luck would have it, I captured these moments on video and you can find them on my YouTube Channel
TONY FERRARI AT MARGARITAVILLE RESORT
Signed to Disney Music and a Los Angeles resident, all one needs to do is take a look at Tony Ferrari’s socials to see that he collaborates with some great artists. To see him perform himself is a treat though. He gave us a little background story on a new song called “Stage 5” about “clingers”, people that get a little too close too quick. He says he has a thing about people knowing where he lives. Well, I just gave out a little information about him living in LA, but let’s assume that LA is a very big place, and if you really want to know exactly where he lives in that very big place, you’re going to have to do the extra leg work on your own, I have no idea. In all seriousness, the tune had a cool vibe and let’s hope we hear more of it in the future. While you’re waiting, you can find it on my YouTube channel.
TRENT TOMLINSON AT MARGARITAVILLE RESORT
Long thought of as one of the bad boys of country music, it seems that Trent Tomlinson may have just brought his image down a notch or two with a current radio hit for Brett Young. The first time I heard “In Case You Didn’t Know”, I was driving, but the very second I parked my car, I was grabbing my phone to download the song. It was one of THOSE songs. I still love it and hearing it from Trent, in the serenity of Key West, I love it even more now. Don’t for a minute think Tomlinson can’t still sing a rowdy country song though. As the story goes, second-hand smoke, remnants of a house party the night before, reflected off a Jim Beam bottle to a Coca-Cola bottle like a redneck prism, and gave birth to the mother of all tearjerking country songs. “Angels Like Her”, released in 2006, is still good fun and mix it with some of those tropical concoctions they serve up at Margaritaville, and you’ve got yourself a party. Tomlinson’s latest album, “That’s What’s Working Right Now” is available and he’s touring. If you haven’t seen him lately, check his schedule
NATALIE STOVALL AT MARGARITAVILLE RESORT
Natalie Stovall is one of those multi-talented musicians that can play just about any instrument she picks up, most notably the fiddle. At Margaritaville in Key West, however, there was no fiddle, just a guitar and some great stories. I’ve been a fan of her work for quite some time and she never fails to put on a good show, but this was entirely different. Away from the crazy of “Crazy Town”, everything seemed a little more relaxed, which made for an especially poignant performance of her latest song, “Brooklyn”. In the New York City area, playing for the military, Stovall and her band learned some sad facts about the Brooklyn Bridge. Apparently, if a person is up on the bridge and facing the lights of the city, there is a good chance they won’t jump. If the person is facing away from the lights, they will. Hearing this prompted her to pen this song. It’s a beautiful song, inspired by a heartbreaking subject. Maybe her best ever. If you’ve never seen her play live, put it on your to do list for sure.
This completes what I guess I’ll call “Volume 1” of my Key West Songwriters’ Reviews. I hesitated typing the word “Reviews”, only because they’re such short glimpses into each performance, but I wanted to include everyone I saw and space constraints make it impossible to go into all the detail I could.
I’ll begin writing the on the next group and have that out as soon as possible, so please stay with me and thinkcountrymusic.com and as always, please support the artists that you’re reading about. Follow them on all forms of social media and most importantly, purchase their music and attend their shows. Music makes everything better for everyone.