Magic at the Boohatch: The First Songwriter's Workshop & House Concert
The inaugural Boohatch Songwriting Workshop and House concert, held by Mike McClure at his amazing home and studio in Ada, took place last weekend on October 20th and it was definitely a success.
The workshop started Friday morning and went through Saturday, leading up to the house concert featuring McClure and Susan Gibson. The workshop had 6 participants for the weekend, and they all spoke very highly of the event and what they got out of it.
“I've been writing songs since I was like 13, books and books full of songs that I've never done anything with. I stopped writing for a while, and my dad's a huge musician and my aunt knows how much music means to me, and they found this for me. They found it and got it for me as a gift,” said one of the workshop participants, Katie Spindle. “They sent me here to try to breath life back into my writing, because it's been a while since I sat down and wrote anything. They said you have too much talent to just not do anything with it, so I just wanted to take a fresh look at my songs and I wanted to find out where I stood as a songwriter.”
Which is exactly what McClure and his partner Chrislyn Lawrence were hoping to provide for people.
“I knew in my gut, I knew from the time we said we were going to do it, that it was going to be good. But there's a lot of new things that we're doing, and I tend to be anxious about the details. But everyone started getting here Friday morning and I swear in 5 minutes and all of that anxiety just oozed out of me and dissipated, and I knew that no matter what happened, it's right,” said Lawrence. “It felt really good, and we decided to start it off just asking everyone why? Why are you here and why are you a songwriter? And just that went into this very natural progression about what comes next, it flows naturally. When the outcome is inspiration, and creativity, the outcome becomes a moving target depending on each person who is here. We knew we were going to talk about certain parts of song structure, and give everybody a chance to have one on one time, and that's really what it was.”
Friday and Saturday were spent in various lessons, breakout circles and jams with McClure, Lawrence and Gibson, providing a variety of information and opportunities for the workshop participants to share songs and work them out with the help of every one there.
“It's the first time I've done a songwriter workshop. I've never even been involved with one, even as a songwriter. Some of my friend's have, Chrislyn and Susan have. It was great,” said McClure about the event. “I didn't really have a curriculum in mind when we started, but once we got going I got inspired by my own thoughts about songwriting and writing, and that started coming out. Which made me want to next time jot all these things down that we went over. It just kind of became a natural thing about talking about songwriting and developing songs and how they unfold, and things that will hang you up when you are trying to write. Just talking about those is very freeing, and some people weren't really even thinking about writing songs, they just wanted to write. It was perfect and it was fun.”
Being at the Boohatch is a pretty magical thing in and of itself in my opinion. There's so much art and crazy things hidden in every corner and crevice that it becomes such a rich wonderland to explore. I mean, where else are you going to see a goat in a pink tutu? Then you add in the creative energy of the surroundings with the creative energy of the musicians, and it becomes this rich melting pot of ideas and inspiration. It's absolutely the perfect place to host something like this.
“That's what this is, it's giving people a place to find abundance of something. Of course the natural thing is to do songwriting because that's Mac, he's that person. He has the gift of people feeling really comfortable around him, but now it really is that this can be multidimensional,” Said Lawrence. “It can be a way for people to find whatever it is they are looking for, even if it's just to come have a space to connect with people. That's what I saw Friday morning when they got here. We're all just dying to connect. The way this place is structured, it can be that kind of place, where there's also enough space where you can go and not be around everyone.”
Which is exactly what was echoed by the participants that I had a chance to talk with during the event. Every one of them said it was an awesome experience and worth every penny, and that they would definitely encourage people to come check it out, for a variety of reasons.
“I've written songs and done my own music for about 20 years, and I was just wanting to do a workshop with some veterans and meet some new people, more or less network. Mainly just to see what it was all about,” said participant Jimmy Grayson. “We've been working on songwriting tools, for keeping your toolbox full, in order to help you through mental blocks and things like that. The jam sessions have been my favorite. It's worth every penny. Knowledge is the best tool.”
Several of the workshop participants talked about how great it was not only to get advice and writing tips from McClure and Gibson, but just to have feedback from them was empowering and helpful.
“When Mike and Susan tell me that it's good, I'm like okay, I'm not doing so bad. My whole life I've been playing songs for my family. I don't play them for other people, and of course they are going to say they are so good. So I wanted an unbiased opinion, I guess I needed that validation,” said Spindle. “I'd like to feel like I'm not totally making a fool of myself and it's not pointless to sit and write about my feelings all the time. I love music, I love this. I freaked out Friday night, I was playing my song and everyone was playing it with me and Mike played a solo on the instrumental and I was like, YES! I've never experienced anything like this before. Just to be around other musicians at different levels than you, and they are all contributing knowledge to each other, it's a really cool exchange of ideas. Music is awesome, and I love how it brings people together in this way.”
There was a lot more to it than just how to write a song, although that certainly was a main element. Lawrence also did an hour long session about just tapping into your own voice by using poetry practice to flow and move into lyrics. McClure went through how to work through some structure of songs. He did a piece on the power of songs and lyrics and the simplicity of it. Everybody got to share a song by someone else that they felt had some of that criteria, and they were able to talk a lot about the processes.
“I think you can really get in your head about this stuff, and what will really make you a better writer is writing. We worked on metaphors and using that kind of vivid language because you have so little space in a song to cover ground, and we worked on that a lot,” Said Gibson. “We broke into groups and we played some songs for each other. And there's a guy here named Colby that has never gotten past his killer first line, so we sat there and worked it out. The killer is thinking that there is a right way to do it, and you aren't doing it right. The reality is the only wrong way to do it, is to not do it. So we spent a lot of time on that. It was really fun because some of the other participants sat there and threw in ideas, and it's that kind of fearless volunteerism that really comes through. People think in different ways and they might contribute something that you would have never come up with on your own. I love it.”
I really think that this kind of attitude, of tenured songwriters helping newer musicians find their way, is really what the Red Dirt music community is all about, at the heart of it. There's always been this theme of family and of helping one another, instead of it being a really competitive atmosphere which is what you can usually find within music scenes. Which is also what Mac had to say about the overall feeling of the event as well.
“It reminded me a lot of the Farm when I was in Stillwater, of having a place to go and play your songs, getting feedback and just doing it in front of somebody. Reciting it in front of somebody will change your entire perspective of any kind of writing. For someone to be able to walk away from this with that experience , and think about songs a little different, and have some input from people like Susan or myself, it's great,” Said McClure.
Having active participants who are willing to voice their opinions and help each one another out is also something Gibson talked about.
“I like having to find language to explain something that is a real intuitive process, and when I do workshops, it makes me get intentional about what it is that I'm actually doing, because so much of it is like stumbling in the dark and trying things out,” said Gibson. “Workshopping helps me to just get intentional and think what is it that I intend to say here. Especially when you are in a group of people that are willing to speak up and will just say,'that's not what I heard, when you said that, this is what I heard' I love that.”
But of course the workshop wasn't the end of it. About 40 people came over that evening for the house concert, which also had food provided. McClure's longtime pal Clay Mixon came all the way from Louisiana to bring a giant pot of authentic gumbo and rice. He and another friend came and set up a giant iron cauldron onto a heat source and served up some of the tastiest gumbo that I have ever had. I also brought a bread pudding with bourbon sauce to share with the crowd as well, which was rather delicious if I do say so myself.
The living room was set up with chairs and everyone poured in to hear the music in an intimate and comfortable space. It was just about perfect. Another really cool element of the house concert was that a few of the workshop participants opened the show with the songs they had been working on, and they nailed it. It was very cool to watch them share their songs, which were all very well done. Lawrence also got up and did a poetry reading, which was full of emotions and was very moving.
“Seeing people that were just putting songs together getting up on stage with Susan and I, and that's a daunting thing. I remember getting up in front of people and it's super scary, and they are working on their own songs and they are in the infancy of writing, but that trial by fire is what is necessary and seeing that was very cool. Even if you go out and fall on your face, the next time you're up there that won't happen again,” said McClure.
Then of course McClure and Gibson put on one hell of a show as well. They songswapped and played along with one another, telling stories and cracking jokes along the way. They definitely entertained the crowd in a huge way. Both of them are such talented wordsmiths when it comes to songwriting, having them paired up was a musical experience that was pure magic.
“It was weird, there's times where I was like, okay I'm playing a show. But then I'm like, I'm in my living room. I can go upstairs and change pants. It was very cool, it was down to the bare bones about what it's all about. Down to I'm playing this song and I'm going to tell you about it, and being around people that inspire you is inspiring,” said McClure about how he enjoyed hosting the concert in his home. “Susan inspires me as a writer, hearing her new songs makes me want to pull out a new song. To take that and let people have a good time with it is great, because a lot of people know our songs, but there are people that are really a fan of the craft of writing and that's what this ended up all about. Which is what I've liked about the Blue Door, I want to do that here and just have a listening room. And eventually have Airstreams lining up the road and people could stay for a small amount. And the time shares out back, if you don't mind sharing a shed with a goat.”
Wacky Mac, just one of the reasons he's one of my favorites to interview.
If you missed this first event, have no fear, there will be more. Although they aren't planning to have the next one until February, they still plan on making it a regular thing. Their plan is to get Gibson back for the next one, but they will also start inviting other songwriters to come teach at the workshop and join in on the concert. But they also don't want to limit it to just songwriting necessarily.
“We've talked about expanding this to not just songwriting, but people could come here who don't know what their craft is, to just have a safe space to discover and play around with it. It your thing poetry? Is your think short fiction? They can just be inspired and figure it out,” said Lawrence.
Stay tuned into McClure's website at www.mikemcclureband.com for more information about the upcoming events.