By Kelly Baughman
“There is a place on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico where emerald waves roll out to embrace the distant horizon beneath a sapphire sky. It is a place where the sugary sand that clings to your feet after a leisurely walk on the beach needn’t be brushed off before you go inside. A place where names and occupations aren’t quite so important-where legends share tables with locals, and not so locals.”
It is the Flora-Bama, the self-proclaimed “Last American Roadhouse”, and home to The Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival. A unique festival, it attracts songwriters from all over the country who flock to the gulf coast every November to share their art in a laid back, hospitable atmosphere.
The 34th Annual Frank Brown International Songwriter’s Festival begins this year on Thursday, November 8th, and will run through Sunday, November 18th. During this festival, Grammy Award winning songwriters and the up and coming stars of tomorrow come into the spotlight to perform original songs in multiple locations in beautiful Perdido Key, Pensacola, Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Silverhill, and beyond.
Festival go-ers will enjoy an up close and personal concert experience and are often able to learn the stories behind some of their favorite songs as told by the original author.
The festival has been awarded one of the Top Twenty Events by the Southeast Tourism Society, and has also been recognized by Billboard and American Songwriters Magazine. Most concerts are free to attend, however some venues may charge a small cover.
A favorite event amongst locals and visitors alike, the event began in 1984 as a small party for local songwriters, and has evolved into an 11-day musical showcase dedicated to the true backbone of the music business; the songwriters. The festival bears the name of the late Frank Brown, beloved night watchman at the Flora-Bama for 28 years. Mr. Frank, as he was referred to by those who knew him, was a simple man with a complex past. With giant hands that were often compared to “well broken in catchers mitts”, he once ran moonshine and gambled professionally before settling down into what some have called “a teddy bear”.
In his later years as the night watchman at the Flora-Bama, Brown made it his mission to make sure that musicians who had had too much to drink made it home safely, sometimes taking it upon himself to drive them home. He also made sure that their equipment remained safe if they had left any behind. Ken Lambert, one of the Flora-Bama’s original performers, said of Brown, “He was a big man, but he was as gentle as a lamb. We all loved him.” The festival honors Brown, whose values, integrity and strength of character still endure.
The mission of the Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival is to continue to provide a stage for all types of music to be born. The festival promotes all writers, from aspiring musicians to hit singer/songwriters, by allowing them all a much needed forum in order to get their music out to the world.
This year, more acts are expected than ever before. Venues of all kinds welcome the over 200 songwriters that come from around the country and around the world. Whether you are looking for a “listening room” experience, a pleasant dinner and music venue, a family friendly musical adventure or a gritty roadhouse, FBISF has a place for you.
Some of the industry’s best artists will be taking the stage like Bobby Keel, award winning and song-writing hall of fame nominee who has written songs for such artists as Hank Williams Jr., David Allan Coe, Travis Tritt, Tammy Wynette, and many more.
Country song-writing superstar Dean Dillon we be on hand to play his classic hits like “The Chair”, “Life’s Not the Breaths You Take”, “Tennessee Whiskey”, and “Homecoming ‘63”, just to name a few. A member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Dillon is a talent that is not to be missed. You’ll find yourself singing along to all your favorites.
Aside from being just a gathering of musicians, one of the goals of the festival is to bring music into the lives of children by allowing songwriter’s into classrooms throughout the area. As music classes slowly fade from school curriculums all over the country, Joe Gilchrist, of the Flora-Bama said, “It is important to expand our children’s minds and creativity through music. It is important for them to know that they to have the capacity, ability, and opportunity to enhance lives through their own words.”
The success of the festival over the years has allowed for the Frank Brown International Foundation for music, which delivers music scholarships to deserving students all over the country. The FBISF Youth Showcase allows songwriters under the age of 18, chosen by a panel of festival judges, to perform an original and one songwriter/artist will be selected to receive an invitation to become a paid and featured songwriter in the 2019 FBISF.
If you plan to attend the Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival, plan to obey the rules. The festival is open to anyone who wants to perform, but you must perform original songs. Songwriter Bo Roberts said, “At Mullet Toss, the rules are there are no rules. At the songwriters’ festival, it’s a concert atmosphere. You have to make some sacrifices to hear some great music. It’s the only time of the year you’ll be shushed in the Flora-Bama and other venues.”
Roberts said of the festival, “We all love music, so we can thank the songwriters. Without this festival, many of us wouldn’t be who we are today. We’re a little crazy, irrational and drunk, but most of all insanely happy to pick and sing in paradise.” Mr. Frank wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
For more information or for a list of scheduled artists and concert venues, visit www.fbisf.com or call 850-492-7664.