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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Future of MOTM and Coastal Americana?

                                          Crowd at Conch Republic Seafood's Shanty Hounds gig

                                          Alan "Jax" Bowers and John Sausser

The second largest music festival in Key West, MOTM, has concluded. This year was the 27th festival that PHIP (Parrot Heads in Paradise) has hosted, albeit the first ones were held in New Orleans. I am not a member of PHIP, so I do not have access to anything not posted publicly by them. What I can say is that they do a tremendous amount of charity work benefiting the town of Key West, which is nothing short of outstanding! Thank you!

While PHIP's MOTM event is held every year at The Casa Marina, other musical events happen throughout the town because of it, albeit not connected. As I understand it, musicians at PHIP's event are supposedly on an exclusive contract to only play at the Casa Marina. However, for many it's “Don't ask, don't tell”, as you'll find many playing about town.

One of the hottest subjects being talked about this year is the overall growth of events outside The Casa Marina. Many attendees never register for The Casa because they never go there, but do attend the events about town. On the other hand, my girlfriend, Dani Hoy, has always registered, but in the last two years, failed to go to any of the PHIP events. That's pushing $200. However, for performers like us, The Shanty Hounds, there are too many events of relevance happening all around town to pass by, as we can be a part of them or catch the shows, not to mention ourselves having something like six, or seven gigs of our own. Dani is happy buying and not using her ticket as it goes to assist the charities PHIP supports. Playing music is what keeps a roof over our heads fifty-two weeks a year. There are plenty of other events about the town that spark our interest. Having stated that, I do appreciate what PHIP has done over the years.

As I mentioned, the chatter among many attendees and musicians this year. was the size of the event outside The Casa Marina, how it has been growing, and where is going and growing, from a music perspective.

Tiki Man Radio's Songwriter's Showcase, running in only it's second year, drew 48 songwriters over three days! Repeat that:, they drew 48 songwriters! Additionally, the organizers, Danny Lynn, Brian Fields, Heather Moss O'Shields, and Michelle Tafoya ran it like clockwork. No doubt, one of the most professionally run events over the week. On top of that, they had fifteen more songwriters in reserves! If that's not a sign of growth, I don't know what is?

It should also be noted that a tremendous amount of planning went into this event. A complete year as a matter of fact. Brian and Michelle put together an appreciation bag of goodies for all who played, with items and coupons from vendors all around town! Danny and Heather broadcast the entire three-day event live on Tiki Man Radio Gary Ek from Key West local station 104.9 The X, helped out as well! Two radio stations working together!

Drop Dead Dangerous With Danny Lynn and Heather Moss O'Shields

                                          Danny Lynn  and Gary Ek broadcasting together again

                                         Brian Fields

Another radio personality, Eric Babin, of Radio Trop Rock, after the evens concluded, put out the question on social media I'd heard so often during the week, suggesting that the events outside the Casa had grown and become more of an artist event unto itself. In answering his post, some suggested the PHIP event was becoming long in the tooth and seeing a drop in attendance.

Here's what I can say: PHIP is a do-good organization focused on, as they say of themselves, “whose purpose is to assist in community and environmental concerns and provide a variety of social activities for people who are interested in the music of Jimmy Buffett and the tropical lifestyle he personifies.“ They do-gooders with a Jimmy Buffett focused event. Good people, good causes! Every five or six years Jimmy Buffett himself actually attends the PHIP event as well, though it's highly unpredictable when that will be and it's often a cloak and dagger affair, with the organizers being as tight-lipped as they can be.

Buffett will be 72 on Christmas Day, 2018. Many of his fans are in his generation. It goes without saying, regarding this year's PHIP/MOTM, a lot of people who attended the first of these events twenty-seven years ago, are not attending them now, for all the obvious reasons. One attendee told me that attendance was down quite significantly from last year, not forgetting that last year's event was held shortly after Hurricane Irma.

If attendance is in fact falling, I would guess that it's because a lot of folks in their late sixties and early seventies simply just can't make it anymore. The cold, hard truth of the matter is if PHIP continues to focus on the same people to attend, their attendance will continue to drop. The bottom line is a younger crowd has to be in the cards if there is a plan for a future. Having stated that, attendance around town appeared to be healthy.

I was talking with Mike Nash of The Southern Drawl Band at our MOTM gig at Conch Republic Seafood and we both agreed that the event outside the Casa is growing in leaps and bounds. We also touched on the subject of outside the Casa it has become less and less Jimmy Buffett and more and more about the artists performing their own material. This sits well with both of us, as neither Southern Drawl or The Shanty Hounds are cover, or tribute bands. Mike writes his own material, as does Dani Hoy, and myself. I've been a published songwriter in Nashville for eighteen years. Having a crowd that is interested in new, creative music taking the genre in new directions is a perfect fit for all of us.

This is where the genre can take root and grow. Mike, Dani, and I also talked about the name we have, “Trop Rock”. We felt that it's too limiting. Apparently, we're not alone. If a Country artist or a Reggae artist look at it, how does the term “Rock” apply to their branding? It doesn't at all. What it does is go against the grain for them.

I mentioned to Mike that Danny Lynn had started using the name “Coastal Americana”, for his station Tiki Man Radio, which we both liked a lot. Mike had mentioned that he'd recently been talking to other artists about a name/label for the genre and although they all felt the same about Trop Rock being too limiting, they hadn't had an idea for a new one. As it turned out, Mike liked “Coastal Americana” a lot, and would mention it to them. We'll see what happens as time goes on. On a fun note, Loren Davidson came up with the name several years back. Personally, I think it's fabulous!

However, the genre needs new, younger fans if it is to survive. We seem to have a healthy supply of new artists, but not so much new fans. Two years ago I had put out a call for this to everyone in the media, both radio, and print. The idea was received unanimously enthusiastically by all!

As time and discussions went on, it diffused. I recall talking with one person regarding new ideas and she just kept saying “But that's not how it's been!”.

She was right. There were a bunch of new ideas on the table and it was not how things had been. What had been was in the past. On the other hand, things continue to evolve and they will never be the same, which is true with everything. I felt bad for her as we've all been in situations where we didn't want to accept change. Everything moves on however and the time for Coastal Americana to take root is at hand, there's no doubt about that.

Sine mutatione, ut tamen youd 'erit loqui Latine / Without change, we'd still be speaking Latin.

The talk on the street goes so far as suggesting that the event run throughout town, much the same as The Key West Songwriter's Festival (KWSF) has done for the last 23 years. In the KWSF's case there is no central nucleus, so to speak, at least not in the sense as The Casa is for MOTM. Also, lets not forget that the outside events are not connected with the PHIP event at The Casa at all. While Smokin' Tuna for the is the home base for the KWSF, the events run all around town, including Smokin' Tuna. As a matter of fact, there could be six or eight events running at the same time as events at Smokin' Tuna and all are part of the event.

For those unfamiliar: After Fantasy Fest, The Key West Songwriter's Fest (KWSF) is the largest event in Key West's annual calendar and also the largest songwriter event in the world. The last time I checked there had been 230+ songwriters in the event itself, not to mention the independents who are not in the festival, but come with hopes of playing an independent gig. I believe it draws in something like 60,000 visitors to Key West. It is put on by BMI Nashville and draws songwriters from Nashville, Austin, New York, Los Angeles, everywhere in between, as well as all around the globe. Songwriters are featured in bars, restaurants, theaters, as well as hotels Additionally, they are almost always in an In-The-Round situation.

I consider myself very, very fortunate to be both published in Nashville since 2000 with McClure and Trowbridge Publishing Nashville and one of the very few local songwriters to be in the festival, no less than seven times. It's the greatest honor I've been bestowed on as a songwriter.

Again, the observation by virtually everyone says that the events around town today are about the songwriters and their music. It's becoming its own entity. In the words of Young Frankenstein, “It's Alive!!!” This has been the case for several years running and it's finally taking hold. “The Coastal Americana Music Festival”....Time, organization, and marketing will tell. And don't get me wrong, the TRMA (Trop Rock Music Association) and Mark Friedman can be instrumental in this.

We'll see what happens to PHIP. They do have an event scheduled for 2019. At this time PHIP/MOTM is a registered event with the City of Key West. Key West has many events scheduled throughout the year, such as Fantasy Fest, The Hemingway Festival, various art festivals, so on and so forth. Should PHIP/MOTM cease to function at one point or another down the line, an event would require a new, organized appeal to the city in order to continue with the events outside The Casa Marina, in a fashion similar to The Key West Songwriter Festival, which can be used as a successful template.

However, the only way it will continue is to attract new fans. Without new, younger fans, the writing is on the wall. "Coastal Americana" is a great start. 

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  1. Well written. It didn't take sides, and simply stated facts and real discussions that happened. Well done!

  2. This was a well written & spot on!!
    We attended MOTM for the 1st time this year! Yet we were only at the Casa Marina on Saturday 11/3 - because they are too many street / other venues that we just love & support & had the same musicians. The Late night shows after 10 pm are too late for these 60 year olds. Yet we will sign up again in 2019!! All Great Causes MOTM supports!! Thank You

  3. Since we are not "Friends" on Facebook, I would not have seen this blog had it not been brought to my attention.
    There would be no outside street venues if it were not for MOTM. Grow your "Coastal Americana". Make your own name on the back of PHIP. But why not, instead, help promote spending the $90 for a wonderful charity to get it to your home town? Support a great event called MOTM at The Casa, which is already established, instead of starting a competitive event calling it something else. I would suggest putting your efforts towards locals and fans of yours spending $90 for a wonderful charity and be able to see whatever you want, whether it be at The Casa or on the streets and alleys of Key West. You need to know that it is PHIP bringing the event to KW. Be wise not to bite the hand that feeds you.
    Musicians will still get their gigs at Schooner Wharf, The Hog, Salty Angler, Smokin' Tuna, and the rest no matter what genre they call themselves. In my mind, adding a new name for music is an absurd suggestion. We all have our own style, whether it be "Trop Rock", "Americana", "Southern Rock", "Blues", "Coastal Americana" or "Old Broad Singing" (Talking about myself). You, as a professed writer, who has resided in Key West for quite a while, should know that this 'Genre War" is ridiculous on several levels. In my opinion, you just made it more confusing and divided.
    I will add one more comment:
    Jogging my memory, I remember your resentment concerning the board who hires talent for the event. I just ask you be intellectually honest. I cannot help but take your historical viewpoints into consideration. And I sense a hidden agenda brewing with this most recent blog. Sincerely, Heather Vidal

    1. "War" Where did THAT come from? You have me scratching my head on that. What this blog is about is the growing outside the Casa scene. It's by no means NOT an"us vs them". Additionally, regarding a "Hidden agenda" if you ask anyone who knows me, I'm an open book. There's no hidden agendas anywhere. Thanks for your comment, but I think you might read the blog again with a positive outlook instead of a negative one. What this blog points out is that Trop Rock Coastal Americana, whatever you'd like to call it, is growing.

  4. I read this yesterday... not sure what I think about it. Not sure anybody cares what I think. What I do know is, I like many different genres of music, but if I'm going to a Parrot Head event (like MOTM), I want to hear "tropical-themed" music... stuff you expect to hear when you're at the beach, on an island, etc. A little bit of other stuff thrown in the mix is okay, too, but focus on "tropical"... songs about the beach, the ocean, surfing, sailing, pirates, tropical drinks, lazy days, islands, not working, etc., etc... the life that "Jimmy Buffett only wrote about". Stuff that will make me day dream of tropical settings - where I'd like to be, or somewhere I've been before. I absolutely LOVE that there is so much live music available to see, when in KW for MOTM. I also HATE that there is so much live music available to see, when in KW for MOTM. I can totally understand why many people don't register for MOTM. Why bother, when there is so much "free" music to see at the same time? But, that's the problem and something I've noticed and commented on, several times over the last couple of years... So many musicians are "doing their own thing", so much so that it is taking away from supporting the charity aspect of the Parrot Heads. And maybe that has run its course (partying with a purpose) - as the author mentioned (that "generation" of JB fans is thinning). If there's enough musicians/bands that fit into a "Coastal Americana" genre, then have at it! But it shouldn't change what "Trop Rock" or "MOTM" has already become. Do your own thing - don't try to change or take over what is already in place. It will end when it's time (like other events have). Oh, and I will say this... your "new, younger fans" will probably not be nearly as loyal as the "older" Parrot Heads are.... but I could be wrong. :)

    1. I think doing charity work is part of our DNA. As an example, I played in two events outside the Casa which raised money for hurricane victims in the panhandle. Thank you for your comment!

  5. I'm glad that others don't care for the term 'Trop Rock'. Before I read about your suggestion of 'Coastal Americana' I formed an opinion on this perennial question of the genre classification of Jimmy Buffett's music and those who emulate his style. I agree with most observers that the music really is a class unto itself. Sometimes there is enough balanced fusion between two or more genres that a new music genre is formed, and I think this fusion of folk, rock, country and island music certainly qualifies. Some have suggested that the genre doesn't really need to be named, but that is anathema for obsessive music curators like me and the show producers and programmers you work with. Back when it was just Jimmy doing Jimmy it wasn't that critical to name the style of music, but now with many musicians producing music emulating Jimmy's style, categorization becomes more important.

    Jimmy himself has suggested that it might be referred to as 'Gulf & Western', a sensible term making the obvious reference to the 'Country & Western' influence, but there really isn't any 'Western' in his music and while use of the term 'Gulf' implies something about the regional influence of his music, I am left unconvinced that it is the best description, particularly since it leaves out any reference to the island music influence. That same problem exists with 'Coastal Americana'; where is the tropical island reference in that?

    So, having recently read about Jimmy's recording studio on Key West, I had a revelation. The studio is called 'Shrimpboat Sound Studio'. And, indeed, that is what the music of Jimmy Buffett and those in the same style should be called: SHRIMPBOAT SOUND!

    It uses the term 'sound' which is used to denote other styles of country music, the most widely used being Bakersfield Sound, Bakersfield being where the sound was developed. So, it follows that 'Shrimpboat Sound' was developed along the shores of the Gulf coast where shrimpboats ply their trade. Shrimpboats also operate out of Key West, so besides Jimmy, it is the one thing that connects the Gulf coast with Key West, bringing in a reference to the island music influence. Using the term 'shrimpboat' also helps connote the blue-collar country heritage from which his early life experiences and music sprung.

    Another nice thing about it is that, no matter how far down the road of emulation/innovation we go, Jimmy always gets a nod of credit for starting things by calling the music by a name that he chose for himself.

    'Shrimpboat Sound': what do you think?

    1. Thank you for your comment! I think the one thing that one has to look at is that the performers noted in the piece are not Jimmy Buffett. What they are, are artists unto themselves. Artists are creators, not so much imitators. While Jimmy is often acknowledged as the first of this genre, the artists that work within said genre are blazing entirely new trails, which never would be approached by Jimmy Buffet. The above piece touches on that, albeit in between the lines. The genre is growing and it's growing very quickly. Younger fans are starting to be attracted to the music, which is a necessity, if the genre is to survive and grow. Many of these new fans, ages 25 - 40 are really not interested in, at least to start, with Jimmy Buffett. What they are interested in are artists whose music they enjoy. For them, their introduction to this style of music is naturally from their contemporaries, artists such as Zach Brown, or Kenny Chesney. Coming in from there, they see people like Boomer Blake, Danny Rosado, Dani Hoy, Mike Nash, and others that are people they can relate to. These are artists who create new music within the genre. Bear in mind that there are cover and tribute Buffett bands out there who are very good and highly disciplined. I have a ton of respect for them. As I've stated things that have been overlooked and criticized before, I'll say that again; I have a ton of respect for the Buffett cover/tribute bands for their musicianship and discipline. They do a great job at doing what they do and there is a good Parrot head market for that! However, that is not what this blog is about.This blog is about the growth of the genre, and the genre is growing,as high lighted above! The genre is loaded with fabulous songwriters and artists. It's my opinion that it is on these cornerstones that the genre must focus in order to grow, because this predicates our future and ultimately, our destiny.

    2. Well, if these artists have blazed so far past Jimmy Buffett that they aren't willing to give a nod to him as the creator of the genre, so be it. But it doesn't have to be about him, in any case. Shrimpboat Sound can just be the music about and inspired by places where shrimpboats ply their trade.

      If the concern is marketing to younger fans of the sound, then use of the term 'Americana' isn't going to help. My perception of the term is that it is a reference to 'old-time' music. Nevertheless it is a good term to fit the fusion of folk, rock and country, at least from a world music perspective. Perhaps you might consider a merging of two of the terms proposed: Tropical Americana.

      Anyway, I still like Shrimpboat Sound best.

    3. Hey Worrier King! The term "Americana" has evolved from being exactly what you refer to, into something that includes that. Today it includes a much, much broader spectrum. For instance, previously Americana may have included artists such as Alison Kraus, today it also includes artists like Tom Petty, John Melincamp, and yes, Jimmy Buffett. "Coastal Americana" was brought to light around five years ago, by Loren Davidson. Danny Lynn adapted it for his station, Tiki Man Radio last year. About six months after that, Harry Teaford of Radio A1A decided he'd use the Americana designation after seeing Danny's and called it Tropical Americana. Myself, I would never go along with anything Mr. Teaford is involved with. If you'd care to know why, read the following blog. While Trop Rock has around 10 stations, Americana's stations number in the thousands these days. I do think Shrimpboat Sound is a good name! I also think that it's either the same or very close to the name of JB's studio here in Key West, which in it's past life was an ice house for the Key West shrimp boat fleet.

  6. I love going to the Keys and love listening to the island music there. The only "nit to pick" I have about the term Coastal Americana is up my way along the North and South Carolina coast we have something called "Beach Music", not to be confused with California Beach Music of the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean and many instrumental guitar bands that come from the west coast, but more rhythm and blues or soul music like The Drifters, and songs like Sixty Minute Man that people up here do the Shag dance to. Many of them would say that Beach Music is also, "Coastal Americana" music as well.

    I don't know what the answer is, but maybe Coastal Americana is too broad of a term?