"To every thing, turn, turn, turn,
there is a season, turn, turn, turn."
by J Oscar Bittinger
"Why would you end an institution?" I am asked these days.
"A Winter's Tune is the start of the holiday season for me" is another comment.
Let me say I'm honored that something I've been associated with for 15 years is important enough to warrant folks commentary.
It's hard when something you've been part of ends. But sooner or later "all things must pass" and this is the season for A Winter's Tune.
To elaborate on statements in The Grand Rapids Press and elsewhere, here are The Reasons:
The Short Answer: AWT has made 15 laps around the course, it's race is run, and this horse, for one, is done and ready to move on.
First and foremost A Winter's Tune accomplished it's missions:
- To be a SONGWRITING CHALLENGE
AWT was initially inspired by John D. Lamb's Retreat for Songwriters a "workshop" where you get an assignment on Friday and reveal your result 2 days later on Sunday morning. Exciting, inspiring, maddening, and more often than not, you surprised yourself with a gem. AWT gives the artist at least a month to create a song for the Winter Holiday Season - which includes both light and dark meat to cut from the bone.
- to add NEW (and celebrate TRADITIONAL) songs to the seasonal storehouse
Many traditional songs were created "in service" of celebrations, to bring news, to tell moral or philosophical stories, to encode emotional experience for and into the community. All songwriters must learn from the past which is why each artist had to interpret a seasonal song as well as write a new one. Even though the Winter Holidays contain years worth of songs, new experiences and new celebrations appear in every generation - and so a tradition was born.
- to gain recognition for SINGER-SONGWRTER music
Hard to believe now that entire channels are dedicated to the singer songwriters "style" but once in our town if you played an acoustic guitar and sang your own songs you were a "folksinger" (no matter how funky the playing was).
One aspect of the singer-songwriter style is musically "casting" the song to fulfill the feeling, mood, character and/or story being told. The artist might not be a "bluesman" (folkie, indie, country, funky, rocker, hip-hopper or cajun) but the song communicates best dressed in a particular style. The next song might be require another style or, as seems to happen, a hybrid of all those influences becomes the performer. From diversity comes a new common. But you know that now.
- to bring together communities
- communities of songwriters
- and communities of listeners, particularly folks who listen to lyric based music
- to feature local artists, and introduce regional ones
Attending LR4S in Harbor Springs, MI, I met folks in scenes I never new existed. And they were every bit as good as folks from round home (and they recognized the same in us)! This began the tradition AWT has brought in artist from around the state as well as featuring local and regional performers.
Reasons to wave goodbye and slip into the snowstorm
- Mo Bigger, Mo Stress
As the show took to larger stages to accommodate more than a coffeehouse full of folks (and make for a better "listening" experience) - two simultaneous things happened. The "program" had to get "more pro" (higher and more consistent quality) and the material had to be more broadly entertaining.
- Overtaken by Economics - time, energy and money.
It takes "huge hours" to mount a production and bring together 14-30
folks for a one day event. I would love to say big time translates to
big benefit for those involved and those being benefited. As they say
"the numbers don't bare this out".
The reason the show goes on is the goodwill it has engendered. And while this has been a great profit to many folks, it may be time for a different approach.
- Creating a show with guest artists songs as the source material
True tale, to "DJ" well you have to choose which songs communicate your message (or as Dylan wrote you must "know your song well before you start singing"). Artists were asked to submit their songs so "the oracle" could organize sets to produce what "the director" hoped was the best show. Artists being chimerical creatures, this exercise can frustrate all (and may not yield intended results). With respect to all the performers - thanks for your good natured cooperation (and only a few "Johnny Cash salutes" over the years...)
- Sometimes the sun don't shine
When a songwriter tires to get to the core of an experience, it is an emotional place that they go to. That's why great songs resonate with large audiences for long periods of time. The Winter- Holiday assignment sent some folks to a deep place that included darker emotions and difficult remembrances - an honest and authentic response. My first songs for the program were of this nature. Unfortunately, no matter how well spaced such songs were, several in a set felt to the audience as a "dour, down-tempo" experience. Because of the nature of the show, I as director can't "rescue the mood" as I could if it were a show I did.
That said - performers always gave a truthful and heartfelt performance on show day.
- Because I need to create something new
Putting in long hours and loads of energy to create AWT's Big Top I've not been writing and playing. It's time to get back to that. And from more of that maybe the next new event will arise...
Some things I wished AWT had accomplished
- Presented more artists, done more frequent shows and gathered more folks to enjoy the experience.
There are sheds more songwriters I'd like to introduce you to. AWT featured a fine pack (and invited them back because we loved their spirit). But there are plenty more growing here in our backyard. There are new folks creating with new instruments, forms and words and old writers returning to the craft with artistic richness and experience only maturity imbues.
At any time, particularly in West Michigan, we can find music. We need to go - for ourselves as well as for the artists. Seasoned and starting performers are playing around our town and country, doing open mics, house concerts, playing bars with rocking, twanging and rapping bands, making recordings, videos, websites and apps. We need to be in the same room with them, not watching remotely, but engaged, for them and for ourselves.
- Finding or creating "a place for listening interaction"
Not strictly a "listening room" but a place where, like a concert hall gives focus to the performances that occur in it, this new performance space brings the right balance of technology, funkiness and energy to draw both performers and audiences to it. When the counterweights of the desire-interest-interaction of the community and economics are right - I believe that will come about.
Thank you for reading this on screen screed and thank you for coming to the AWT concerts.
No matter if you are a long time "attender" or if this is your first one - thanks for making the last one memorable!