Country comes calling

Martha’s Vineyard Songwriting Fest brings Nashville artists for performances and workshops.


Ever dream of being a songwriter, but haven’t got a clue where to start? Or maybe you would just like to wade in a wash of music from iconic and rising songwriters from country and other genres. Well then, you’re in luck, because Saturday, Sept. 15, and Sunday, Sept. 16, the sixth annual Songwriting Festival returns to Martha’s Vineyard with an assortment of live public performances and a two-day workshop that provides an inside view into how songs are crafted and eventually get recorded before they hit the airwaves.

The festival is the brainchild of Matt Casey, who has loved the Vineyard since he started coming as a young child with his family. He explains, “There is a rich history of music on the Island, so when I discovered there was nothing like this, I started my own. The first year it was just a workshop at my parent’s place in West Tisbury, and more like a retreat. It grew into this festival with events.”

The whole Island reaps the benefit of Casey’s efforts, because the hit professionals and also the rising stars will be performing free during the annual Tivoli Day street fair celebration on Saturday, Sept. 15, in Oak Bluffs, when Circuit Avenue prohibits cars and turns inside out, with shops and restaurants moving everything to the sidewalks.

For a more formal performance that night, you can attend Behind the Curtain with Nashville Hit-Makers and Rising Stars at the Strand Theater in Oak Bluffs at 7 pm. Performers will include Jimmy Yeary, Brent Baxter, Jesse Lee, Byron Hill, and Johnny Bulford, who have penned hits for top contemporary country artists like Kenny Chesney, Blake Shelton, Reba McEntire, Kelsea Ballerini, Rascal Flatts, Dierks Bentley, Lady Antebellum, and others. These hit songwriters will perform in Nashville-style round format, alternating songs and telling the stories behind their smash hits. Rising stars such as Heidi Raye, Cody Webb, Olivia Faye, and Ray Fulcher will play original acoustic songs and then be backed by a full band for covers of hits.

If you’re a night owl or want another dose of country music, at 9:30 pm come for the full-band Late Night Rising Stars Show at the Ritz that will include Boston’s the Ultra.

For those with a budding interest in songwriting or who have already started to make headway, there is a two-day workshop at Alex’s Place at the YMCA led by Jimmy Yeary and Brent Baxter as well as Dan Hodges, publisher and songplugger, and hit songwriters Jesse Lee, Bryon Hill and Johnny Bulford, who will help with constructive critiques and share insider tips on the industry.

The workshop sessions include “Pre-Writing and Preparing to Win”: Overcome the blank page and find your best ideas again and again; “Connecting to Your Listener”: Give them a reason to care about your song; “Developing Your Song Idea”: Turn your best ideas into your best songs; “Swinging for a Hit”: Give your song its best chance to succeed in the commercial marketplace; “Writing with Powerful Imagery”: Make your song come to life for the listener; and “Co-Writing Like the Pros”: Maximize every co-writing opportunity.

Workshop attendees are invited to a casual BBQ/Guitar Pull Friday, Sept. 14, in West Tisbury, where they will have the opportunity to meet and interact with both the established and emerging artists and play a song of their own.

People will be coming from across the country to attend this sixth annual feast of experience and knowledge. The cost of the festival package for visitors is $499 with food and lodging included. However, Island participants receive a $200 discount as they already have a place to stay. In addition to meals and the special barbeque, the package also includes a VIP seat to the Strand Theater Hitmakers Show, a ticket to Late Night Rising Stars Show at the Ritz, chowder and drink at the VIP reception, Meet ’n’ Greet at Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Co., and more.

If you want everything except the workshop, then go for the $75 VIP Experience Festival pass tickets, with the proceeds to be donated to the nonprofit organization Alex’s Place, from which talented young songwriters will be invited to participate in the workshop free of charge.

You can buy just tickets for the Strand show, and it’s only a $5 cover charge at the door for the Ritz performance.

So, one way or the other, there is something for everyone interested in country music and/or songwriting. You can keep current with the full schedule of events at