Anyone who has ever attended an open mic will either tell you it was the best – or worst – music experience they’ve ever had. Some nights offer a chance to be floored by an unknown talent on a dimly lit stage, but the flip side of that coin can leave you suffering through three consecutive versions of the same Jeff Buckley or Bob Dylan song. The Songwriter Showcase – born out of a conversation between three Door County singer/songwriters – offers you the former.
“Anna Sacks, pat mAcdonald, and I were having this conversation about our personal open mic experiences – things we liked and things we didn’t,” says Adam Mackintosh, a singer/songwriter based in Sturgeon Bay. “One of our main issues was that typical open mics seemed to lack focus. We agreed that there needed to be an open mic situation in which the playing of original material was encouraged.” The three came up with a framework, and the Songwriter Showcase was “launched” at Café Launch in September 2007.
When Café Launch closed in the fall of 2008, the Songwriter Showcase found a few different homes – the 3rd Avenue Café in Sturgeon Bay, the Door County Outpost in Egg Harbor, and Kavarna Coffeehouse in Green Bay – where the showcases still occur to this day. Mackintosh and Sacks took full ownership of the Songwriter Showcase, which meant a lot of dragging equipment from venue to venue.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Sacks says, “but it’s been a pretty magical experience.”
The Songwriter Showcases have given way to inspiration for both budding and veteran musicians, something Mackintosh refers to as the “rock and roll moment.” When asked about the best example of this, Sacks and Mackintosh both mention Ben Teegarden, a Green Bay musician who had never performed in front of a microphone until he found himself at one of the Songwriter Showcases at Karvarna.
“He had written his first song three days earlier,” says Sacks, “and he had to start and stop the song a bunch of times. But when he started…I think it’s one of the best-written songs I’ve ever heard. Everyone that was there knew that we were watching a cathartic moment in process.” Since then, Teegarden has written nine songs.
“It’s propelled him,” Mackintosh laughs.
Door County’s own Dan Mayhew is another example. “Dan was an Artists and Repertoire (A&R) man in Nashville, and he’s also been playing guitar for 20 years. He stopped writing five years ago, and because of a showcase, he’s started to write again,” Mackintosh says.
“And ‘Jukebox Benny’ (Ben Larson) just wrote his very first song because of the Showcase,” Mackintosh says. “The change this has made in people is something that we didn’t foresee at all. Artists perform more, they collaborate more. In some cases, these showcases have helped people regain self-expression they thought they had lost.”
Mackintosh says that for many singer/songwriters, the framework of the showcases is liberating.
“One of the issues I have with open mics is that you feel like you can’t play original material or you’ll lose the audience,” he says. “But when you are encouraged to play your own songs, and you know that’s why the audience is there, it makes it much more comfortable.”
Sacks agrees, adding, “No matter what city we’ve been in, the audiences have been so supportive.”
On July 16, the Songwriter Showcase plans to make the move to a larger venue – the Door Community Auditorium in Fish Creek. Instead of the usual open mic format, Mackintosh and Sacks are treating the show as a concert and have booked four artists to take the stage over the course of the evening. The show will be headlined by Chris Simmons, a London singer/songwriter Mackintosh met when he was playing Steel Bridge Songfest in 2005. Green Bay artist Ben Teegarden will be there as well, along with favorite Door County musician Mark Raddatz and his 16-year-old son Seth.
Mackintosh says the opportunity to increase awareness of the showcase by performing in a larger venue is a welcome one.
“It’s obviously a different format than the usual Songwriter Showcases, but the goal of this show is to show how talented singer/songwriters are,” he says. “What these people are doing is so different than what you hear on mainstream radio. All of the musicians that will be up on that stage are very talented – and their music is very accessible.”
For Mackintosh, seeing the Songwriter Showcase on stage at the auditorium will show the evolution of its original concept. “The musicians will get to perform in front of a larger, captive audience – and the audience will get to see a side of songwriting and performing not often seen,” he says. “There’s something truly genuine about it.”
For more information about the current Songwriter Showcase schedule or the upcoming July 16 concert at the Door Community Auditorium, visit http://www.songwriter-showcase.com.