By Johnny Cole
Photos by Stephen Anderson
Additional editing by Brenda Germany
It’s that time of year again….a time when fans of great songwriting come together on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to celebrate and enjoy original music. On the dates of Thursday, September 15 through Sunday, September 18, 2022, The Mississippi Songwriters Festival will be returning for its 13th exciting year with songwriters from Mississippi, “The Birthplace of America’s Music”, Nashville “The Capital of Country Music”, across America and as far away as Sweden. The festival is truly becoming recognized for attracting accomplished songwriters from all over the world, yet never turning away anyone who is just starting out. There is a place for everyone. The mission of the festival remains the same: “to promote and preserve the art of songwriting.”
In a recent conversation with George Cumbest (Board President & co-founding member of the Mississippi Songwriters Alliance), I asked him what gives the Mississippi Songwriters Alliance & Festival its identity. He used the words “wide and deep” to describe what they are doing, which includes the annual Songwriters Festival each September, the monthly Songs & Stories presentations at The Mary C., their educational program for local schools to help students learn and further their appreciation for music, the Ambassador program that holds numerous events throughout the year to assist the community and finally, the Mississippi Songwriters Hall of Fame, which will have its own museum located in Gautier, MS in the very near future (the project and surrounding grounds are already underway).
Top photo: Songwriters performing at The Roost Boutique Hotel during 2021’s Mississippi Songwriters Festival in Ocean Springs; above photo: The banner for The Mississippi Songwriters Festival
What’s happening at this year’s festival?
Several events and special presentations will take place during this year’s festival:
Thursday, Sept. 15 – For the fourth straight year, the Mississippi Songwriters Alliance will be inducting another well-deserved group of songwriters into the Mississippi Songwriters Hall of Fame. This distinct class will be inducted the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Arts Center at 7pm.
This year’s Inductees: Bobbie Gentry, Clay Mills, Conway Twitty, Hank Cochran and Robert Johnson.
Past Inductees: 2019 – Paul Overstreet; 2020 – B.B. King, Jimmy Buffett, Mac McAnally, Tommy Barnes & Reggie Bates; 2021 – Bob Morrison, Craig Wiseman, Paul Davis, Sam Cooke & Tammy Wynette.
Friday, Sept. 16 – “Tribute to the late Joe Gilchrist”, the Flora-Bama legend who founded the annual Frank Brown International Songwriting Festival.
Saturday, Sept. 17 – MSA Workshop Sessions with “Songtown USA” (Clay Mills & Jason Duke) and the Reggie Bates Memorial Scholarship Night at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Arts Center in Ocean Springs. Also, the annual Songwriters Youth Showcase at Murky Waters in Ocean Springs.
Sunday, Sept. 18 – the Sunday Gospel Showcase and of course, “The Finale” that afternoon. This year, both events will be held at Murky Waters in Ocean Springs.
Over 100 songwriters will be performing at venues in Ocean Springs and Gautier, Mississippi. The following venues will be helping to celebrate the spectacular gift of songwriting at this year’s festival: The American Legion Post, Azteca’s Restaurant & Cantina in Gautier, Fort Maurepas City Park & Nature Preserve, Hickory Hills Country Club & Resort, The Julep Room Lounge, Marina Cantina, Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Arts Center, Murky Waters Blues & BBQ, Neon Moon, Knuckleheads, Rooftop Taco & Tequila Bar, and The Roost Boutique Hotel in Ocean Springs. The Gulf Hills Hotel & Resort is the official Hotel & Resort of this year’s event.
The Gulf Hills Hotel & Resort in Ocean Springs, MS “the official Hotel & Resort of this year’s Mississippi Songwriters Festival”
The Southland Music Line has attended the festival since its inaugural event and has never missed a year. In past years, we have spotlighted the festival with photo collections by Stephen Anderson and articles written by our writing team. Our articles have covered a wide range of topics including last year’s Songwriters Youth Showcase, 2020’s Mississippi Songwriters Hall of Fame Inductions and 2019’s Induction of Paul Overstreet into the Hall of Fame (an article co-written by Connie Gibbs, a cousin of Overstreet). We have thoroughly enjoyed following this annual event.
One of the many things that attracts us back to the festival year after year is its ability to steadily grow without compromising its integrity because of the capable group of individuals who put their heart, mind and soul into making the event run so smoothly.
George Cumbest (Board President & co-founding member of the Mississippi Songwriters Alliance)
The present Board of Directors are George Cumbest, Scott Stradtner, Andy Dalgo, Darwin Nelson, Brad Bohannon, Kevin Westbrook, Daniel Westphal, Johnny Mire and Derek Norsworthy. Others who are helping the Mississippi Songwriters Alliance move forward: Sean Gasaway (Education Coordinator), Buck Allen (Ambassador Program Coordinator), Donna Brewer (Membership Coordinator) and Amanda Cumbest (Administrative Coordinator) and obviously, others who remain dedicated towards making things a success.
I asked Cumbest what was one of the things he has loved most about the Mississippi Songwriters Festival and working with so many like-minded people. He quickly replied, “the friendships and the relationships made along the way.” He said working alongside the special group people on the board has built lasting friendships. He added the same for others who have contributed to the success of the festival, Songs & Stories, and various programs associated with the organization. When talking with George Cumbest, Scott Stradtner, Darwin Nelson or anyone involved with the Songwriters Alliance the camaraderie of those working together on the festival and associated projects is evident. The Board and staff always make you feel “welcome” at events or meetings, a quality widely associated with the state of Mississippi.
While visiting with Cumbest, we discussed the humble beginnings and the origin of the festival and how it has remained true to its roots. It’s one of the things I enjoy best about the festival. In my many years of following festivals and events taking place around the world, so many start off with good intentions, but quickly lose sight of their mission or simply try to grow too fast. The Mississippi Songwriters Festival continues to grow and has chosen to do so wisely.
Historic Downtown Ocean Springs, MS “one of the sites of this year’s Mississippi Songwriters Festival”
George Cumbest and I first met a few years ago when a mutual friend, Robert Dienelt, introduced us. We have since enjoyed many discussions on the phone and in person. It has been a pleasure getting to know the hard-working individuals who spend hours (in front and behind the scenes) getting the festival, the monthly Songs & Stories shows and various programs together…. not an easy job, but you can tell that they are very proud of what’s taking place and continuing to evolve. Frankly, it’s exciting!
As Cumbest said in our conversation prior to writing this article: “Music brings people together and events such as the Mississippi Songwriters Festival provide a chance for all to put aside their differences and enjoy something in common.” Those of us who attend such events as the annual festival can fully agree with his statement.
There are several interesting things planned by the Mississippi Songwriters Alliance that will soon become a reality. As the expression goes “good things come to those who wait”, such as new events in the state of Mississippi, the Mississippi Songwriters Hall of Fame Museum, a music publishing company, a record label, access to a beautiful new amphitheatre and park, and several groups and workshops to aid songwriters as they progress in their careers.
The Southland Music Line team of Stephen “Andy” Anderson, Robby Amonett, Brenda Germany and I, appreciate the kindness shown to us by the good folks from the Mississippi Songwriters Alliance. We most definitely encourage others to attend this year’s festival and all future events and activities. There is a lot to be enthusiastic about in this very exciting time for the festival and its future plans.
For more details about the Mississippi Songwriters Festival including the complete schedule, please:
CLICK HERE to visit their official website.
CLICK HERE to follow the festival on Facebook.
Page Designed & Edited by Johnny Cole
Additional Editing by Brenda Germany
© The Southland Music Line. 2022.
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