Roseanne Cash, daughter of the late, great Johnny Cash —and no slouch when it comes to penning and performing original songs herself— once told an interviewer of a memorable event from her youth.
It seems that one of her fondest recollections as a little girl was of an evening spent sitting at her dad’s feet late one night after a dinner party at their family home just outside of Nashville. In attendance were some of the finest and most celebrated singer/songwriters of the early ‘70s. Bob Dylan was there, as was Kris Kristofferson and a host of other country and rock luminaries.
As the wine flowed and the room grew smoky, the tunesmiths each took turns playing their own compositions — as well as the works of their shared influences. Hank Williams, Sr., Ray Price, Willie Nelson and the Carter Family all were represented through their words and music. However, it was the simple act of sharing a new piece of original work —or a cherished accomplishment— with friends and peers that seemed to coax the best out of the assembled talent.
Said Cash, “That was really when my father was in his element. It brought him more joy than anything else to simply sit around in a circle and pass a guitar around with other songwriters.”
In the following years, nights like that at the Cash house became something of a rite of passage for singing country and rock lyricists. Yet it wasn’t as if Johnny Cash invented the concept of a “songwriters’ circle.”
Folks have been doing such things for decades, long before the groundswell of interest in the singer/songwriter movement that began in the 1960s and peaked in the late ‘70s, only to return with a vengeance in the early ‘90s as an underground phenomenon and continue through today.
In the world of bluegrass or “old-time” music, “pickin’ parties” usually take place in backyards, open fields and on front porches at private homes (in nice weather, of course).
These days, in the C & W world they’re often held in theaters or small listening rooms and they tend to call them “Guitar Pulls,” because the next performer in line always seems to be tugging on the shared instrument when their turn arrives.
Still, no matter what nomenclature is used, the idea remains the same: rather than the standard newbie/opener/headliner format used by the majority of rock clubs, each artist takes a turn presenting a single song to those on stage and off. Occasionally, if the performers are familiar enough with each others’ work, they’ll chime in, adding their own embellishments on guitar, banjo, mandolin, keyboard, or whatever else they’ve chosen to play for the evening. But more often than not, each artist lays down a naked, solo take of their tune.
This Saturday evening, three regional artists will present their original material in just such a format at The Sentient Bean, a family-oriented, smoke and alcohol-free coffehouse and restaurant that has distinguished itself as one of the few locations in town that’s both interested in (and geared toward) regularly presenting original, contemporary acoustic music.
Billed as an “In-The-Round” showcase, the show features Lauren Lapointe, Julia Carroll and Jason Bible — each of whom enjoys some measure of local notoriety.
Lapointe is a familiar face at The Bean, having gigged there occasionally for the past few years (she even organized and hosted an Open Mic Night there for a while, as well as an Acoustic Showcase which found up-and-coming locals sharing bills with celebrated national touring acts). The Savannah native —by way of Canada— has released two independent CDs of first-person balladry and folk, and is nearing completion on a third collection of her own material.
Carroll attended high school in Savannah, but now divides her time between here and Atlanta, where she’s working diligently to establish herself in that city’s songwriter scene (which begat such icons as the Indigo Girls, Michelle Malone, Shawn Mullins and John Mayer). The openly gay artist dubs her aggressive style of rock-tinged playing and (sometimes) controversial subject matter “HardFolk.”
Bible is best known as the frontman of popular local roots-rock bar band The Train Wrecks. He caught the songwriting bug early, and absorbed inspiration from his Fort Worth, Texas upbringing, as well as from musical heroes such as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Jeff Buckley. One can hear aspects of rural blues, dustbowl Americana and hopped-up rockabilly in his work.
It’s a strange amalgam of artists, but organizer Lapointe says that’s the idea.
“I wanted to get together with some of my favorite local songwriters and swap songs,” she explains. “I asked Jason and Julia because I love their music and thought we’d have an interesting blend of different musical styles. I’ve shared the stage with both of them in the past and knew we’d have a really fun evening.”
Bible says that while he’s never heard Carroll’s music, he has heard plenty of complimentary things about her work from Lapointe —whom he has gigged with in the past— and he’s stoked to be included in this particular triple bill. However, despite his years of playing the coffeehouse, bar and restaurant circuit, he’s new to the notion of playing “in-the-round.”
“This will be my first time doing something like this,” he confides — adding, “Other than just sitting and playing with people around the house.”
“It’s kinda weird, ‘cause when you’re doing a full set of your own, it sometimes takes a couple of songs to ‘get that channel open’ between you and the audience. Here, you play one song and stop! It’ll definitely be fun, though. Lauren says she’s had a great time doing these kinds of shows in the past, and she’s always really enthusiastic about doing shows in general. She’s got a lot of energy and her sense of humor is fun to be around, so I’m sure it’ll be a great night.”
Out of deference to the unusual nature of this show, Bible says he’ll be avoiding most of his older material, as well as songs of his popularized by The Train Wrecks, to play a batch of newer songs that he’s rarely —if ever— sung in public before.
For her part, Carroll says she’s never played a song-swapping show with more than one other artist.
“I guess that’s more of a song-line, as opposed to ‘in-the-round,”’ she chuckles.
Carroll, who has not played a Savannah show in many months (opting instead to devote her energy towards breaking into such celebrated listening rooms as Eddie’s Attic in Decatur) is especially enthused to be returning to The Sentient Bean.
“That’s a great space,” she gushes.
“There’s plenty of room to move around on stage, and the room is divided so that the music area and the food and coffee area have a nice buffer from one another. I like that. As for crowd response, I’ve always felt well-received there.”
Lapointe concurs that this venue is one of the best in the area for her genre.
“The Bean has become a really great listening room for acoustic music,” she adds. “I love the folks who go there because they’re diverse and open to anything. They’re very supportive of original music and don’t necessarily want to be in a smoky bar at midnight in order to hear it. It’s a nice complement to other venues in town.”
Still, she says that while it’s great to have a place as comfortable as The Bean to come home to, she’s extremely excited to be touring at last — something she’s only attempted with gusto for the past few months, despite occasional road trips in the past.
“I really enjoy it! I love the challenge of walking into a room where no one knows you (or your music) and winning them over. You get to meet and make connections with incredible people — not just audience members but other musicians as well. It’s all about getting out of your comfort zone which is so important as a musician, and as a person, too.”
Carroll says that after spending a good amount of time playing in different markets, as a singer/songwriter, she can both appreciate what Savannah has going for it, and notice more of its shortcomings.
“While Eddie’s Attic is the premier acoustic venue for the Atlanta area (and much of the South), quite a few of the artists who pass through there have actually played at The Bean, too. I guess the main difference is that Eddie’s is far more saturated with that sort of acoustic-based music — in a good way of course — while I think Savannah could stand to have a bit more than it currently does.
“That’s what’s so nice about showcases like this one — for Savannah, they’re few and far between (or so it seems), but when they do occur, I’m always pleased with the turnouts. Obviously, there is a demand for the type of singer/songwriter music this showcase features, and it’s a shame there’s not more, because there’s definitely a listening audience. And they come to the shows with eager ears and open minds.”
The Sentient Bean Coffeehouse at 13 E. Park Ave. presents an evening of local Songwriters In The Round Saturday evening at 8 pm. This acoustic concert is open to ALL-AGES and is free with a suggested donation to the performers of $5. Call the Bean at 232-4447.