“I’m a real person – and real people grow. I just want to sing my growth.”
– Kanye West on VH1 Storytellers (2009)
Though its output has slowed dramatically in the past few years, the iconic VH1 series Storytellers still stands tall as one of the most compelling examples of the power of insight. Despite what the gloss and sheen of pop radio may be trying to tell you, every song has a story – a beating heart pumping with the intellectual sweat of its respective creators. There’s something lost, however, when watching a TV-friendly edit of an artist’s innermost thoughts on his or her defining work; in the digital age, the only real currency left is immediacy.
For the story-committed among us in Birmingham, we have been graciously gifted with the ongoing Writer’s Share series at WorkPlay. Series organizer Max Berueffy speaks below on the Writer’s Share’s origins, its ongoing efforts to give a platform to rising and risen songwriters alike, and the upcoming Jan. 14 edition featuring Taylor Hollingsworth, Kate Taylor and Preston Lovinggood.
Weld: What spurred the creation of the Writer’s Share series? Did a particular artist trigger these plans, or was it more of a combined inspiration?
Max Berueffy: I have always enjoyed listening to singer-songwriters. Sometimes, I’ll hear a song recorded by a big pop or country artist or group – with huge production – and it just doesn’t work for me. But I’ve found that if I get to hear the song performed by the songwriter, stripped of all the production, I often discover, “Hey! This is a really good song!” I think the lesson is that, whatever genre critics and producers squeeze a song into, a good song is a good song.
So, I was at a show at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville last April. After the show, I talked to one of the performers, Marcia Ramirez. Marcia is a friend of friend, and I’ve been a huge Marcia fan for several years. She is an incredibly empathetic songwriter and has one of the prettiest voices anywhere. This was also about the time when the Bluebird was becoming overrun with new fans because of the TV show Nashville.
Marcia and I got to talking about the idea of a singer-songwriter series in Birmingham. It’s not that far from Nashville, and I got the impression that a lot of the songwriters in Nashville would love to be able to take their songs to a new audience. To make a long story short, Marcia put me in touch with a lot of songwriter friends of hers, and I got in touch with other folks I know in Nashville, and the idea just developed from that. One of the high points of the series (for me personally) was when Marcia performed for the Writer’s Share in November, along with Kim Parent and Rob Harris.
Weld: There seems to be an emphasis, when it comes to artist selection for this series, on a more directly “storytelling” style of songwriting. What draws you to such artists, and what do you feel draws audiences at large to these artists?
MB: You know, I hadn’t really thought about whether the writers that have (and will) perform for the Writer’s Share emphasized storytelling. But I guess they do. In fact, I’m having a hard time thinking of a song that doesn’t tell a story, even if the story is not apparent on the surface.
But life is a story – “all the world’s a stage,” right? And even if the song describes a very short and intimate slice of that story – if it’s a good song – it conveys a piece of a story that we can relate to because we all share that world.
I think one of the things that people enjoy about the Writer’s Share concerts is that we give the songwriters the space to talk about why they wrote the song, and how it came to be recorded. As odd as it may sound, the more universal the message a song conveys, the more we like a glimpse at the person and the story behind the song.
Weld: Personal thoughts on the Jan. 14 show? Specifically: the work of Taylor, Kate and Preston, respectively.
MB: Even though many of my friends in music are in Nashville – and so far, most of the artists in the series have been from Nashville – I really wanted at least one show with artists from Birmingham. So, when I started the Writer’s Share series, I immediately thought of Preston.
Preston and I have been friends for several years, but it wasn’t music that brought us together. We struck up a conversation one day when he remarked on the St. Francis High School wind-breaker I was wearing (my son was attending the school). We discovered that we are both interested in the writings of St. Francis and contemplative theologians like Thomas Merton. The depth of Preston’s spirituality shines through in his songs.
Coincidentally, I mentioned the singer-songwriter series to a friend here, who has a connection to the Alabama School for the Fine Arts, she suggested Kate Taylor and Taylor Hollingsworth (Kate attended ASFA). It seemed like the perfect match. Preston, Kate and Taylor are all friends. Taylor was involved in the production of Preston’s recent Sun Songs album. [Also], I’m very impressed with Kate and Taylor’s work as Dead Fingers. I think they are all very enthusiastic about the idea about a show with a focus on their song-writing, as well as their talent as performers.
Taylor Hollingsworth, Kate Taylor and Preston Lovinggood will perform at WorkPlay at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 14. Tickets are $10. For more information on the Writer’s Share series, visit workplay.com or call (205) 879-4773.