Written by Maria Ekaterina
Photo by Roger Gupta
The first Annual Park City Songwriter Festival is happening September 13-14 in Park City, Utah and it’s the beginning of a new age in the Music Industry. This is a top tier songwriting fest and discussion on aid for musicians in mental health and addiction. People have been waiting for this event to come about, with every death and overdose, we continue to hear about in the news and from our friends. It’s time for us to think about the musicians, the people who help organize these events which bring us together. We need to be real with ourselves and the work we’re doing here. Whether that work is out there, creating, making magic and music in the mountains or within our deepest darkest parts, we need to heal. Music heals, it’s powerful and every one of us, has that one song, which puts us in a better mood. Mine continues to be “Life Is Better With You” by Michael Franti. That line alone – “Life is better with you” was engraved on my wedding ring as a daily reminder. It’s a reminder of making the decision to see the best in my day, my life, my situation and not using substances such as drugs and alcohol to numb my feelings towards them. I reached out to Scott Thomson, one of the founders of Park City Songwriter Festival, and I was blown away with what he had to say. We talked about a lot, and found our two separate and never crossed lives had more in common than we could have expected. We both love live music but even more – connecting with those creators, song writers, musicians and the stories behind the songs. I am so grateful to have had some time to chat with Scott who painted a beautiful picture for me of his vision for the future the Music Industry.
Interview with Scott Thomson:
Q: When was this idea born and how did it all come about?
A: One of my partners, Ben Anderson, he’s an attorney but he’s in a killer band. A bass player, influential guy, sober for 12 years now had gone through sobriety with Anders Osborne. Anders recently started a program called “Send Me a Friend” which helps artists in recovery. If they’re in a place in Rock City, this gives them support while they’re out at bars. Anders, found himself in destitute rare form, he got his act together again and he was like “Oh my gosh. I go to these places and all I want to do is drink being surrounded by bars late at night. But there is no support,” for the artists and their families. When Ben and I met about a year ago maybe a year and a half ago, that’s when we started talking about Send Me a Friend and how it was started in New Orleans. I was like this is cool, I want it to participate in my bar. Less than a year ago, the whole song writer aspect came about. This is a little counter intuitive you know. To have rock without drinks. To enjoy live music without having the urge or the fear of getting back into something they’re not proud of or want to get away from – drinking. There are those who want to live that lifestyle. These song writers have an opportunity to go out and sing their songs the way they want to, and then tell stories about them. It’s the energy that you get from that. Park City Songwriter Fest is beautifully set in the history district of town with charming buildings and color changing trees lining the streets “I try to do things for other people. Yes – I want to have a successful event and weekend and we want that to be cool. But honestly, if we make it great for everyone, everyone wins, that means me too. The way we do it is with the shows we put on, they’re stellar, they’re insane! It’s the coolest feeling. That’s what we’re presenting and giving to everyone. Along with presenting a place, music and support we have a few organizations partnering up who align with the vision of Park City Songwriter Festival.
Q: How are these organizations involved?
A: We are having outreach meetings on Saturday which will have industry professionals coming in to talk about a array of topics to anyone who wants to show up. One of these topics will be focusing on sobriety issues in music and how it affects different people. Sept the 14th we’re also doing something for kids who want to learn more about expressing themselves through this medium. There will be a 3 hour workshop with kids about music. How to write, promote, sell and more. Bringing in these CEO’s and other industry professionals who have handled huge names in the industry benefits the audience in a big way. They have continued to help them with sobriety issues. They are coming in and speaking to anyone who’s willing to listen. These programs are for the whole music family. What we’re trying to do is allow them to speak to everyone about what they know about sobriety and mental issues. Those workshops are free. Anyone can come check out these workshops. Park City Songwriter Festival environment is music, love, fun and just helpful information throughout the weekend. A lot of these people do drugs and it’s sad how many people die from overdosing each year. That shouldn’t be happening, and that issue should be addressed and not only that but have some profound stepping stones laid forth that people can see the help there is available.
Q: How have you personally, been affected by mental health or addiction in your past?
A: Nothing mental health wise. Family not huge – well yeah we definitely have a family of Scottish drinkers. It’s not an issue. We try to be careful of it. No serious issues but I understand it. I’ve seen it, I’ve seen other friends go through it.
Q: Have you had to be someones support who has had difficulty battling mental health or addition?
A: I’ve been on support tree phone call sheets for friends of mine or their kids. It’s all hand in hand, it seems like if you have a mental illness or whatever it is, you think you can fix it by drinking or doing drugs. It works hand in hand. I have two friends on suicide watch, I had to sign them out of mental wards and keep an eye on them till we could figure it out. I don’t know if anyone doesn’t’ see it. It’s pretty crazy. The research in Ski towns, high altitude and places like that, the suicide rate especially with people working in bars and restaurants is incredibly high. We’ve all been affected by this mental illness which has been exasperated by drugs and booze. I have friends who still keep me on their family phone tree. Luckily I don’t have a tree myself. I got roped into this whole thing. I feel like I have more of an opportunity to make a difference. That’s what’s so exciting about this festival. Not just about music, but the whole other side of it. I feel it in my gut and in my soul that I am making a difference for people in so many different ways. Music heals all. But you add all this stuff on top of it with the right intentions and you have real effects.
Q: Will there be alcohol?
A: One of our lead companies, our sponsors is High West – started in Park City 10 yrs ago. It’s a whiskey distillery. When I approached them they didn’t’ quite understand why they should be a part of this. They quickly realized that it’s about being responsible. Along with supporting people who love to go drink and have a good time, so be it. They provided us with a list of mock-tails or rock-tails so people can come into our bar and the other 5 bars who are participating will have these. All these restaurants are providing more options for people who don’t drink. These things are co-created by bartenders. They’re real, live drinks that don’t have liquor in them. We’re going to have drunk ass holes that doesn’t matter, that’s part of the festival experience. We have another side. Giving people an opportunity.
Q: Could you share with us a few ways the festival goers can experience an intimate music experience?
A: Everybody is so used to going to these concerts where there are 5-10k people. It makes me crazy to go to the great Amphitheater and see this band where the sound isn’t even that great. The vibe is great. At Park City Songwriter Festival the stages are inside local bars. These restaurants range from 75-100 people max. You’re with these songwriters who have won all these awards while writing truly beautiful music. Some of my favorite are Kylie Sackley who has some great songs out there. She has this personal song where a relationship has gone bad in her life. She choked up in the middle of this and she almost couldn’t finish. I’m pretty emotional myself but that emotion and that personal experience you get with them is what we’re bringing to people. We have about 75 artists coming in. In the future, I want to take over Old Town Park City and make it 3-4 days and have every restaurant filled with the love of music. You have these guys playing and it effects people. You can be sad and hear one of your happy songs and you’re happy. Listen to the story of the song. That’s insane. That’s what we’re trying to bring. I didn’t know how much this would affect me. Everyone has to see this. One weekend out of the year. Another point is and I think it’s important. The fact that we’re doing this for kids. How to get your song to write it to make money on it but also taking care of yourself and non-bullying. Some kids might not have these opportunities and haven’t had time to recover. Some don’t want to go through that again and want to change their lives. Sometimes they don’t get an opportunity because they die so young. Part of this is reaching out to them and helping them realize what life is all about and giving them music.
Q: What additional ways does the crowd engage in making this a legendary, pivotal, weekend for the music scene and the health of those who make it happen?
A: Every artist is different. The audience/artist interaction is the same. Whether you’re sober or drinking you’re having fun. Whether you’re learning or singing or hearing the story behind the song. Every time we have these shows people have these reactions where they are self shushing themselves. It’s interesting where someone who’s singing this heartfelt song and people are getting drunk and you get shushed and then you get re-engaged into these songs and you just…oh my gosh it’s the coolest thing.
Park City Songwriter Festival’s initial lineup includes (in alphabetical order) Aaron Barker, Aaron Benward, Alicia Stockman, Anders Osborne, Anna Wilson, Bill Luther, Billy Dean, Bryon Friedman, Chad Cromwell, Chris Wallin, D Vincent Williams, Danny Myrick, Dave Pahanish, DJ Logic, Earl Bud Lee, Eric Van Houten, Even Stevens, Hailey Steele, Ira Dean, Keith Stegall, Kent Blazy, Kyle Jacobs, Kylie Sackley, Luther Dickinson, Marc Broussard, Matt Warren, Megan Linville, Monty Powell, North Mississippi Allstars, Paul Jenkins, Phillip White, Rick Brantley, Rick Gerber, Shannon Runyon, Sinclair, Sophia Dion, Steve Seskin, The Side Deal, Tim James, Travis Howard, Tyler Hilton, and Windy Wagner.