Top of the Charts
When it comes to music fests, the annual Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival is number one with a bullet.
Aside from being skilled writers, songwriters are often talented musicians. The process of coming up with a great song involves more than being able to put a good story on paper and hope it sounds good in song form. It usually requires that the songwriter be able to play an instrument to “work out” the piece. Not only that, some songwriters, called singer-songwriters, write with the intention of performing their own songs. Each November for more than 35 years, the Gulf Coast has hosted an event highlighting these musical artists called the Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival, or FBISF for short. Born and moored at Perdido Key’s legendary Flora-Bama Lounge, the event has expanded to more than two dozen bars, restaurants, and other venues from Gulf Shores to Pensacola. This year’s event is set to take place November 4-14.
“The festival is nothing short of a magical experience,” says festival director Andy Haynes when asked what makes the event such a hit. “I’m aware of long-lasting friendships—songwriter to songwriter and songwriter to attendee—that have been forged as a result of being here.”
The venues are all small, intimate spaces, which allows festivalgoers to mingle with the musicians. I myself grew up in Perdido Key and remember the first time I attended a FBISF event. I was in my early 20s, and at it was at the Silver Moon, which used to be across the street from the Flora-Bama. Not only are the singer-songwriters sharing some of their most personal stories through song, but listeners can also interact with them throughout the night, which is something that just isn’t possible at most festivals and concerts.
Another thing that makes the experience unique is that it features more than 200 nationally acclaimed songwriters. You’ve probably listened to songs they’ve written your whole life, but at the festival, you’ll be hearing them sung by the person who actually wrote the song. “Typically, I find that the people who create a song have just a little extra bit of emotion in their songs when they perform and you can feel it,” says Joe Gilchrist, founder of the FBISF. “The ability to communicate that is a special skill.”
The singer-songwriters performing at the festival have penned hits for some of the biggest stars in country music, including George Jones, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire, and Kenny Rogers. It’s not unheard of for one of these big-name performers to visit the festival, either.
The event offers a unique experience for the songwriters as well. Steve Dorff, who has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, gets asked to come back to the festival often, and he doesn’t hesitate to accept the invite. Dorff has written more than 50 number-one hits for performers such as Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, George Strait, Celine Dion, and Alison Krauss. He’s also created the music for TV shows like Growing Pains and written music for several Clint Eastwood films. Dorff loves coming to the Gulf Coast and participating in FBISF. He says: “I really enjoy hanging with my songwriting brothers because it’s a very lonely process writing by yourself, so the awards dinners and festivals are the one time we can get together.”
Gilchrist says he feels fortunate to not only attract local musicians, but also those from Nashville and other places, who he says can feel the love of the audiences. “It wasn’t like the people who were Grammy award winners came in and dominated everything,” says Gilchrist. “They were part of the music scene, and that is what I think makes the FBISF so special.”
Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival
November 4-14, 2021
For a complete schedule of events, venues, and other information, visit frankbrownsongwriters.com.