New Orleans has given birth to a plethora of songwriters—Fats Domino, Dr. John, Dave Bartholomew, Allen Toussaint and countless others—but is not commonly hailed as a songwriters’ haven. This year, Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) will be making efforts to bring attention to, and support, the flourishing songwriting community in the Crescent City. BMI, an American performing rights organization representing more than 400,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers in all genres of music, will launch the inaugural Songwriter Stage during the French Quarter Festival at The Historic New Orleans Collection, showcasing a dozen rising Louisiana-based songwriters.
“BMI is always trying to connect the dots in music communities, and New Orleans is one of the most important music communities in the world,” says Clay Bradley, BMI’s Assistant Vice President of Writer/Publisher Relations. BMI has partnered with music festival giants SXSW, Austin City Limits, Lollapalooza, and now French Quarter Fest. “When we took a look at New Orleans and saw that we weren’t really doing anything to support the BMI membership and up-and-coming songwriters down there, we were introduced to the fine folks at French Quarter Fest who gave us the opportunity to promote our songwriters on a BMI stage,” Bradley says. “When that opportunity came, it was ‘Yes, we need to do this.’ It’s just part of our fostering of talent. We’ve been talking about it, and this was the right opportunity.”
On Saturday, the BMI Songwriter Stage will feature Amy Trail, Lynn Drury, Micah McKee, Charlie Oxford, Andrew Duhon and John Michael Rouchell. On Sunday, Dana Abbott, Ruby Rendrag, Luke Winslow-King, Karen Waldrup, Kristin Diable and Jim McCormick will take the stage. Bradley says that a collaborative approach to artist selection was used to create this lineup. “We sat down with business leaders in the close-knit music community in New Orleans, including the Jazz and Heritage Foundation, Loyola University, and the Tipitina’s Foundation, and we really asked for their input on who should perform on this stage,” Bradley says.
As a town that encourages self-expression, New Orleans is home to an eclectic group of songwriters. “People can kind of be anything they want in New Orleans. You don’t have to fit a certain mold,” singer-songwriter Kristin Diable says. “You can wear a cape and high heels and read poems in Jackson Square if you want to, or you can sit at a bar and drink all day, or you can write poetry on your rooftop, or you can play songs. You can kind of make your own course here, and I think that’s innately very expansive for being able to stay in a creative mode, and feel free enough to follow your fancy.”
The artists appearing on the BMI stage represent the diversity of the songwriters that thrive in our city. MyNameIsJohnMichael frontman John Michael Rouchell and Micah McKee of Silent Cinema write rock songs for their bands, while Andrew Duhon and Charlie Oxford create folk and blues-based tunes. Dana Abbott is an indie songwriter and Luke Winslow-King fuses the old with the new. Lynn Drury’s countrified-R&B is a very different animal from Ruby Rendrag’s pop and classic rock. Some write from confessional places while others keep a professional personal distance from their songs; some spell it all out while others ask listeners to piece the thought together. Collectively, the artists on the BMI Songwriters Stage defy fitting neatly into one genre, but they all have one thing in common: all are shaped in some way by the city of New Orleans.
“Sometimes the songwriter, the lyric and melody writer, strumming a guitar, playing the piano, gets overlooked in New Orleans because our other jewels are so wonderful,” says Jim McCormick, whose songs have been recorded by Tim McGraw, Trisha Yearwood and Trace Adkins. “But for BMI to do this with this festival,” he continues, “it’s well deserved by the songwriters in the community, and it goes a long way toward saying to the rest of the city, and to the country as a whole, that we’ve got a great resource of songwriters down here.”
Bradley says that BMI hopes to create a long-term partnership to both continue and build the musical legacy of New Orleans with the Songwriter Stage as a mere jumping off point. “The whole idea is to support your community and support what’s happening down there,” Bradley says. Diable says that cultivating a strong songwriting community will help New Orleans maintain its place in the history books and stay creatively and historically relevant. The songwriters, she says, “keep creating and making new music, defining what’s current.”