by Kirby LindsayEvery Tuesday night at 7p at the Gypsy Café & Pub on Stone Way, songwriters – and those interested in becoming songwriters – can gather to share, support and find “a chance to talk about their work with other writer’s,” explained Peter Spencer, “and talk about their songs independent of the performance.”
Spencer, a professional musician, music instructor and music critic, moved to the area in 2004, and settled on Bainbridge Island. For the last two years he has taught at Dusty Strings and gotten to know a number of musicians – and songwriters – who frequent the school and store. When he chose to import – and launch – a Songwriter’s Exchange in the Northwest, he said he deliberately, “wanted to stay in the neighborhood.”
From New York To…Fremont?
For Spencer, discovering Fremont, “was discovering Seattle. For me it really is the center of the universe. It became my landmark,” as any time he crosses the Sound, he explained, he uses Fremont – and Dusty Strings – as his directional detail. Plus, Gypsy provides a casual, comfortable and intimate atmosphere.
The original Songwriter’s Exchange began in 1975 in Greenwich Village, in New York City. Spencer participated during the ten years (1979 – 1989) he lived there, at the time when it had grown into a musical phenomenon – launching careers, recordings and the magazine Fast Folk.
Today, the original Exchange has returned to its roots – and this is what Spencer has imported, a place for songwriters to gather and share, in Seattle. A place where 15 to 20 people come together weekly, an attendance Spencer compared to that of a popular undergraduate writing course. Too many people, he pointed out, “and there won’t be a lot of chance to talk between songs.”
“In New York,” he explained, “we tended to discourage the idea of an audience.” This is for songwriters, he admitted, “but there is a middle ground.” Those not ready to share – those who want to write but haven’t yet – can sit in and enjoy the camaraderie.
“I’m loath to tell people not to come,” he said, “and I’m loath to make rules in general,” he expressed, a Fremont-esque sentiment. “My attitude to people that are there and not bringing work is that they will bring work some day,” and inspiration could strike while they listen.
A Safe, Sharing Space
Spencer also doesn’t want anyone to mistake this for a class. “I don’t want to be the teacher,” he stated emphatically. This is an opportunity to share. “People have been very good about their comments,” he said about the gatherings so far, “they talk in terms of the song itself – not comparing it to some outrageous ideal.”
Attendees also feel comfortable sharing their works-in-progress. After a recent Exchange, Eric Miller (of the Eric Miller Band which plays regularly at Hopvine Pub) and Zach Burr (of Social Capital) laughed off suggestions about plagiarism. “If you are taken to court,” explained Miller, “it means you are making some money.” In these circles, it appears, imitation would be flattering.
“There is some risk involved,” Burr responded seriously, “but there is cross pollination.” The chance to be inspired compensates for the risk of someone ‘borrowing’ a clever phrase or compelling melody. “’You can’t create in a vacuum,’” Burr quoted.
Songwriters, and those interested in learning song writing, can attend any upcoming Songwriters Exchange, held Tuesdays (including November 23rd) from 7p – 9p at the Gypsy Café. It may not lead to fame and fortune (although several successful musicians started at the Exchange in N.Y.) but it could lead to friends, fellowship, and improved melodies and lyrics. Why not venture out on an upcoming Tuesday night and check it out?
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.