Sweetwater Singer Songwriter Workshop

Published 11/07 2013 10:56AM

Updated 11/08 2013 07:32PM

Special to Big Country Homepage, By Lisa Dewey

Do you ever feel there has to be something better to do on a Saturday? But, what? You're tired of talking to yourself—and you're losing interest in what you are saying? Friday's cold spaghetti, really? Or, stepping out to the same ol' faces pushing by you in the night? Does your spirit feel a bit like a floating fish lately? Well, I feel one flush away, too. Well, I did, that is-- until Saturday.... And, I know I'm not alone, perched on my worn couch in my tired yoga pants (a glamorous name for pajamas, when you don't want to own up to that current state of affairs). Just one step short of decorum, I repeat to myself, as I slouch even further into the once-overstuffed cushions.

Enter stage right: Saturday afternoon, the Texas Theater in Sweetwater. Listen for the sweet mingling of guitars teasing the air backstage, seemingly to beckon music-lovers from five worn corners of the South. Peek around the curtains, and you'll glimpse a rare spectacle in these parts: a group of eager songwriters beaming under the dimmed stage lights, as everyone settles in for an afternoon of writing with singer-songwriter, clinic host, Susan Herndon. Her consummate canine companion, Princess Jackie Pie; plays a key note in the day's texture. Just listen to the group's song video, and you'll understand.

Clinic-goers drift in with chicken grins and kitten steps. In the mix, a tall cowboy who wears his singular moment so well; struts in quietly, pulling a chair from the table. This veteran musician from Austin, slides through notes, chords, and people—as smoothly as the edges of shadows shifting on the historical woods of this charming theater, until the final curtain closes. He is one of two professional guests invited for the day's event. From another dark corner, emerges another hat, toting a guitar case and a look of  purpose: this time, it's music veteran, Bradley Kopp. When he opens his guitar case and casually lifts his guitar out without notice, you'd have no idea what talent is sitting there beside you. That is, until the artist from Buda, TX begins picking.

Next, a radiant smile opens wide the circle of anxious songwriters; who are all wondering how they got so lucky as to spend the day (and night) with such a talented artist as Susan, and her two guests.  And, then, everyone begins to feel at ease without even realizing it. What seamlessly follows is an autumn voice that is all at once fresh and warm as clean linens drying in a sunny breeze, sweeping willowy grass. Worries are soon forgotten.

It's no stretch of the imagination to feel the room come to life as Susan picks up her guitar and talks about the joys of songwriting. I'm guessing it's safe to say that music is her favorite language; and this unique artist from Oklahoma speaks at least two other languages. She brings her treasured time in France to her music, and to her style somehow. After a round of bashful introductions, Susan has the group get down to the business of songwriting. She doesn't waste any time getting to the golden nugget of the day. Everyone begins to toss lines out as if they were making word stew. And, then, the magic appears. Really, truly, it does! By this time, Bob Livingston, Bradley Kopp, clinic-attendees with guitars rise to the occasion, and the entire room erupts into lines that flow; and a song delivers itself like the Holy Grail. Yes, a real, honest-to-goodness song; that has the best in the room grinning like kids breaking into the cookie jar!

Bradley reflects on the songwriting' process: “I recently took part in the Songwriting Workshop at the Texas Theater in Sweetwater, TX along with my musical compadre's, Bob Livingston and Susan Herndon. Susan conceived an excellent songwriting exercise that managed to include all participants in a way that was challenging but not intimidating. Susan, Bob and I were there as professionals participating with local songwriters from the region. Susan's exercise incorporated her taking several comments that had come up early on and making them the first line of the song after which each participant added onto as we went around the room. This allowed everyone to maintain objectivity without attachment to the end result or fear of criticism. Within an hour we had a completed song that was quite good. Everyone's creative juices were stirred and inspiration flowed from all.”

Susan seems to make everyone feel that she is, in fact, the lucky one of the bunch: “We had a great time at our Sweet H20 Songwriting Clinic on Saturday," says Susan. “At least I did! It turned out that there was a cool group of individuals who showed up to write, and Weston and Vicki Pyburn created a perfect space for us to work on our songs and then put on a show that evening at the Texas Theater. The Texas Theater is really a wonderful venue that they have been working hard to restore.” Susan remarks, “We also had the added boon of having master songwriters and performers, Bob Livingston and Bradley Kopp participating right along with us. And we all wrote together and then that evening performed a brand new song, 'Looking For Some Sweetwater.' It was a special day for me.”

Sweetwater's own, Kerrie Bullard, chimes in on Susan's sentiments: “I enjoyed Saturday very much. I have wanted to attend a songwriter's workshop for a while but have never had the opportunity until now. I enjoyed meeting others who enjoy writing, and hearing their stories about why they were there. It is always nice to be in the company of those who have the same interest in writing and can relate to what you as a writer get out of writing. I thought it was very interesting being in the Texas Theater again as I have not been in the theater in many years.”

Kerrie grows nostalgic as she remembers her Saturday afternoons watching movies at the historic, 80-year-old theater. She says the seats are the same, but the theater has experienced many changes. It was built with Vaudeville in mind, she says. But with the advent of the silver screen, a screen was erected instead. And all of the space behind the screen, where we met for the day (backstage) was covered up all these years, and used for storage.

“They (the Pyburns) are an absolute asset to the community and should be applauded for their efforts in everything they do to help the community. I just wanted to mention this because it is Weston and Vicki who have taken their time and efforts to restore this theater so that it can be used not only for movies, but for things such as we had on Saturday. They have put in a lot of time and effort to raise funds for this old theater,” Kerrie explains.

Lubbock musican, Mel Harp, expresses the import of music and workshops for all who love music, and may call themselves human. “While perhaps at different stations on the road, all are on a similar journey. The group will not teach you the whole process, but they often offer some precious little jewels of insight. Mostly, they just wrap friendly arms around your shoulders and say, 'Hey, we understand. Let’s walk together and see if we can discover some answers.'  And when you have the good fortune to have success with a song, the group will be there to pat you on the back and say, “I knew you could do it. Now go do it again!”
Mel comments that he knows among Sweetwater residents and exes, like himself; there are folk musicians, rockers, country pickers and singers, jazzers, songwriters, choral singers, church musicians, composers, adult beginners, professional performers, barber shoppers, and maybe more. About this clinic, he says, “I also enjoyed the day with everybody at the Sweetwater Songwriters' event. Such workshops are always helpful to me.”

Like most, if not all, who came for a day of clinic and an evening of performance, Kerrie came away with a feeling of not only enjoyment, but a better feeling that she can write a song, she says.  Adding that she loves the fact that we had the opportunity to perform our songs, and share them with others. Kerrie belted out a beautiful gospel song during the show, one that she wrote herself.

Abilene's Benny ("Meatball") Bartek relives his unforgettable performance: “Wow! What an honor to have Bob Livingston on harp during 'Texas And You!' What an honor just to be on the same stage along with him!” He was joined in his revelry by Sweetwater musician, Billie Sanderson; a quiet man who smiled brightly, and boy could he play guitar and sing his original tune. And, radio station KXOX- owner, Jeff Steiner, entertained the crowd with his impressive performance, of an original song, as well.

Award-winning songwriter, Jackie Johnson, aka 'Cowboy To The Bone,' effuses, “I had a great time yesterday at the Songwriters' Workshop in Sweetwater. Best part was performing at the Texas Theatre. Thanks to "Oklahoma Girl," Susan Herndon and "Lone Star Cowboy, Bob Livingston.” Jackie also mentioned that Bradley Kopp plays with the same Taylor guitar. But, the highlight of the day for Jackie was when Susan referred to him as a master songwriter. He enthuses, 'yeehaw!' "(And) together, we (the group) wrote a song and brought it to life to share with others from the stage of the Texas Theatre. Amazing!”

Event coordinator, Weston Pyburn sums up the special day: "The singer-songwriter clinic was a great success. The attendance for this first-time event exceeded my expectations and I was especially pleased to have several from out of town. I think everyone who attended felt inspired by the creative energy."

That we did, Weston. “I awoke this morning,” recounts Kathy Kinney Boley, with 'our song' in my head. The clinic was so much fun. I'm ready for a repeat experience.”

Vicki Pyburn, along with husband, Weston, (and others) working to preserve the historic theater, adds: “Thanks everyone who came, supported live music, and had a fun time at the clinic and the show. I hope to have some more fun, creative times --it was great!”

It seems we all wish for that, Vicki! Thank you, Weston and Vicki, and all who had an active role in hosting the workshop at the Texas Theater. The hospitality could not be beat. Vicki dished out a delicious lunch
for all of us. Even the brownies are unforgettable.

With our utmost gratitude for a very special experience at the Texas Theater, and from all of us who will fondly remember this day; here's a few lines from our first Sweetwater Song Clinic:

“Looking for some Sweetwater, And a place to call my own, Where the sun is bright, This old dog and I—St. Christopher drives us home!”

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