24 Hours At Big Sky Songwriters Festival

1 PM – 2 PM – Pre-Songwriting Hash Session w/ Mentors – Mammoth Room – Mountain Mall, Upper Level

There are 7 mentors:

Rory Feek, Steve Bogard, Kevin Welch, Chas Sandford, Kim Parent, Jon Pousette-Dart, and Kristi Neumann.

After the mentors introduce themselves, the attendees are asked to pair off and begin writing.

2 PM – 5 PM – Songwriting Session – Mammoth Room – Mountain Mall, Upper Level

Alaska and Zoe find a place at a table in the corner of the room. They have an untitled song they’ve been working on since yesterday:

Verse 1
One snake shot that’s all I got
Leaving for New Mexico
Mission stone, twisted bone
Desert heat it’s a lonely drone

I know what you mean
I brush over all the lies
Feeling like a trucker, 1 AM on an August night
I can’t afford these tired eyes
Tired eyes
Tired eyes

One of the mentors stops by to listen as they run through another verse, chorus, bridge, and the chorus again. The girls look to the mentor for feedback and he tells them, “I’m not qualified to critique this, but I can tell you my opinion… I’m in Nashville. I’m a country songwriter. You’re not writing country songs. You’re definitely not singing country songs. And so every once in a while you come across somebody who so distinctly has their own style that it’s almost a little too risky to try and point that in a different direction. Your lyric is not how I would write your lyric. The way you sing and phrase lines is not how I would sing or phrase those lines. But I think it’s pretty unique and special so I don’t think I would change anything. You’re writing things in a way that evidently moves you and feels right to you. I don’t write in the same way so I’m not qualified to tell you, “Here’s how you make what you’re doing even better.”  As the girls absorb this he asks, “What would you like to see happen with this song?”

Alaska, “Maybe more of a climax?”

Mentor, “No. I mean happen with the song someday. Is this song for you?”

Alaska, “Yeah, I think it’s probably for me.”

Mentor, “I don’t think myself or someone else [at this festival] should tell you, “You should make it rise a little higher in your bridge,” or something like that. I think that what you’re doing naturally is probably the right choice. If you were trying to write the song to pitch to somebody else… you might look at it in a different way, but I don’t think you should. I think you should write it for yourself and I’m not sure I would change any of that stuff. At these [songwriter festivals] very rarely do [attendees] show up fully formed or fairly formed at 16 with their own unique thing. I think you need to be careful not to steer away from that. For what you’re doing I think it’s best to draw from what everybody’s doing and saying here and just apply what you feel like will make a difference to your own style. The best thing I can do as a mentor is encourage you to continue down the path you’ve taken.”

Alaska and Zoe are very satisfied with this. The mentor goes to visit another group and I check my pamphlet. The next scheduled event is at 8 PM and it’s 4:30 now. I leave the girls to keep working on “Tired Eyes” and walk around to listen in on the other mentoring sessions. I hear songs that sound like they could work on country music radio. I hear mentors giving advice about changing a line and, “make it rise a little higher in your bridge.”

Back in my room, I open up my bottle of “Deuce Juice” wine, pour a glass, and take it outside to the swimming pool. I sit in the hot tub and stare at the mountains for half an hour. When I return to my room there’s a text from Dave, “Hola, John! I’m having the songwriters over to my suite for dinner. Come on by.”

6 PM – Dinner at Dave’s (not listed in the pamphlet’s schedule of events)

All of the mentors and people from the panel and are in Dave’s suite. They spill onto his back patio where I find several pitchers of Margaritas and bottles of Dulce Vida Organic Tequila on the table. I drink a Margarita, a shot of tequila, and help myself to a casserole dish that Dave prepared. He tells me, “There’s elk in there.”

8 PM – Performance – Whiskey Jack’s

8 PM – Opener TBD
9 PM – Texas to Tennessee – Kevin Welch, Walt Wilkins, Dustin Welch
10 PM – Joey + Rory

Joey + Rory play songs that I know and love and are familiar to me from listening to country music radio. Alaska and Zoe are sitting at a table near the stage enjoying the show. After the set, I go over to say hello and introduce myself to Alaska’s dad, Elwood. I thank him for allowing me to spend time with the girls this afternoon, “I’d love to see Alaska play at the Hotel Cafe next time I’m in Los Angeles.” They ask me if I’m going to be around tomorrow night because, “Alaska is going to perform here at Whiskey Jack’s.” I tell them I have to leave tomorrow, but would love to hang out a bit before I go. We agree to meet in the morning.

On the way back to my room, I stop at a bonfire. I meet the Director of Sales and Marketing for Dulce Vida Organic Tequila. I drink a shot of tequila and he offers me a bottle to take home. I traveled with only a carry, so he gives me a Dulce Vida T-shirt and hat instead. I drink another tequila then go back to my room to sleep. The next morning, I pack up my stuff. From the gift bag I take:

1 “Get Lost – In Montana” stainless steel 16 0z. travel coffee mug

1 “Get Lost – In Montana” BPA-free stainless steel sports bottle

1 “Get Lost – In Montana” beer koozie

The rest of my gift bag stays. I grab a coffee from a shop in the lobby and run into Dave. I thank him for everything and we talk about next year’s festival, “We’d love for you to come back, John.” I would love to come back, too. I go meet Alaska near the picnic tables. Zoe and Elwood are there along with a photographer named Audrey Hall. I ask Alaska, “What will you take away from this experience?” She tells me she made a lot of great connections and hopes they will come into play as her career develops.

I have an hour long drive to the airport, so I say goodbye and ask Audrey if she wouldn’t mind sending me some of her photos. I’d love to get a shot of Alaska’s performance at Whiskey Jack’s tonight:

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