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37th Annual Frank Brown Songwriters’ Festival

This year’s 37th Annual Frank Brown Songwriters’ Festival took place from November 4-14. Over 200 songwriters and artists appeared in venues across Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Pensacola, and Perdido Key. For 10 days, guests could visit any of the two dozen venues and enjoy both established and up-and-coming songwriters’ performances. Guests also have the chance to stay and listen to the musical artists discuss the personal story and meaning of their songs upfront and personally.

The event was created by Joseph Gilchrist, one of the owners of the legendary Flora-Bama bar. Guests visiting Perdido Key, Florida, or Orange Beach, Alabama heading for the state line can find this honky-tonk bar full of patrons listening to the nonstop live music and drinking Bushwhacker cocktails. When it was first built in 1964, it was one of the few buildings in the area, but as time passed and traffic in the area increased, so did the number of bar patrons and the size of the bar itself. For 50 years, Flora-Bama bar has been named the #1 Beach Bar or listed as one of the top beach bars in the United States by numerous news and media outlets like CNN, the Huffington Post, Fox News, USA Today, and many, many more. It’s famous for its location and the extremely unique make-up of guests that visit, anywhere from locals to tourists to nobodies to household names like Jimmy Buffet, Vince Vaughn, Kid Rock, and many more. Its popularity has allowed the bar to establish several annual events, such as the Annual Interstate Mullet Toss, where contestants throw a mullet across the Florida-Alabama state line, or the Polar Bear Dip, where contestants plunge into the frigid Gulf of Mexico during New Year’s Day.

It also established and hosts the Annual Frank Brown Songwriters’ Festival. The Frank Brown Songwriters’ Festival was created and named in honor of the well-known night watchman of 28 years, Frank Brown, known as “Mr. Frank” by patrons and employees alike. For those 28 years, he was the last person that live performers would see before closing time. Though he passed away in 1988, his morals and values are immortalized in the name of the Songwriting Festival. The festival created in his name is now one of the Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 Events and one of the oldest of its kind. The purpose of the annual festival is to enrich the lives of music lovers, especially children, encourage creativity through music and especially song, introduce lesser-known artists to the guests of the festival, and give these artists the opportunity to bring their work into the spotlight. It also hopes to increase tourism in the Gulf Coast area, and this year it managed to span the length of several different countries across both Alabama and Florida.

The musician-hosting venues stretched from Gulf Shores to Pensacola and included restaurants, community centers, churches, museums, libraries, bars, and resorts, so there was something for everyone to see and places for every music lover to visit regardless of age. At each event, songwriters would display their skills and interact with fans and lovers of music hoping to experience the best performances of artists known and unknown. Bands and artists of many different genres were invited to the festival this year, providing the opportunity for fans of all types of music to find something they like, and maybe find something new to enjoy.

For the 2021 festival, events were spread out over a period of a jam-packed 11 days. Besides shows featuring songwriters presenting their music and material, the festival also held several other events. Patrons were welcome to attend festival-hosted kick-off parties and the open-mic nights, many of which were at the Florida-Bama bar itself. These events gave guests the chance to sing a few of their own songs provided they brought an instrument and signed up. Guests and songwriters alike were welcome to visit free seminars for prospective songwriters, musicians, and recording artists. One such seminar, “Songwriting, Music Publishing, And Record Labels In An Independent World” was run by Sean Gasaway, both an award-winning songwriter himself and CEO of the independent publishing company Gasaway Music. Another seminary was “Promoting Your Music Career,” and was run by Bruce Wawrzyniak, host of the Now Hear This Entertainment podcast and President of Now Hear This, a company that has provided management, promotion, and booking services to country-wide musical artists for 15 years. In his seminar, he discussed different ways for aspiring songwriters and artists to promote their careers and build their names in a way that will help them truly succeed in the music industry. Other events included Catherine Powers signing her book, The Spree of 83 – The Life and Times of Freddy Powers, about her father, the behind-the-scenes musician Freddy Powers, a free screening of the new documentary Hank Locklin: Country Music’s Timeless Tenor and the Frank Brown Music Festival exclusive documentary, Stories In Rhyme.

This year proved to be a lively, event-filled festival. If you missed this year, then be sure to keep an eye out for the next annual festival in 2022, which should prove to be just as much of a must-see as this one.

Written By A. Alderman