They gather in a group of three or four, crowding around a mic in a semicircle reminiscent of an old-time fireside jam session.
One by one, the Tucson songwriters tell the stories that inspired the songs. They are personal anecdotes of their lives, or the lives they have rubbed up against.
“It feels real intimate, sitting around telling stories. And they are their stories,” said Jessica Northey, who launched Tucson’s first Arizona Originals country singer-songwriter showcase in spring 2016 at the Cluv XS with a handful of songwriters including her fiancé Billy Shaw Jr.
The Originals have held several showcases since at the Maverick Live Country Club, and on Saturday, July 8, they will host their biggest event to date: “Song Behind the Story.” The concert is at the Rialto Theatre downtown.
The songwriters slated to participate include Shaw, a finalist in last year’s second annual “Nash Next” national country music competition; veteran singer-songwriter Andy Hersey; longtime country singer Robert Moreno, who’s starting to break out as a songwriter; veteran singer-songwriter Jason Curtis; and newcomers Monica Mendez, Kayleigh Walker and Caiden Brewer. Also on the lineup: Laki Skouras, Andy Hersey, Jay Faircloth, Mark Edward Miller, John Soland, Andrew Cooper, John Hawk and Kiko Jacome.
Northey said the idea of a local songwriter showcase sprang from her Nashville experiences, watching songwriters sit around and share stories of their art. Northey for years split her time between Music City and Tucson as she built a career in country music social media.
“Songwriting is art,” said Northey, who runs the popular #CMChat online country music chat and is a regular on Blair Garner’s syndicated radio show that airs overnights on KIIM 99.5 FM. “Why aren’t we honoring the art that these guys create. And most of them don’t realize it’s art. It’s just life for them. Something happens and they write a song about it.”
Tucson’s music community has long revered the art of songwriting. Tucson Folk Festival includes a songwriting contest in its annual events and Tucson Desert Song Festival, the classical music festival each winter that celebrates the voice, opens its songwriting competition to high schoolers. In recent months, KIIM got into the act, hosting a weekly segment, “Ten Minute Tune,” that gives Tucson country music songwriters 10 minutes to come up with a song based on a suggestion from the Max, Shannon & Porkchop morning crew.
Northey, who is a pioneer in country music social media and largely regarded as one of the country’s top social media influencers, is a closet songwriter herself. She confesses she can’t sing, but she’s written about 30 songs including several with Shaw. One of her most recent, the heart-breaker “Come Get Me,” starts with a young girl calling her father to come get her from a party after she’s drunk too much and ends with the same woman facing death and asking God to come get her.
“I started (Arizona Originals) so people could see the value of the song,” she said. “Music has value and the stories have value. ... These are like lifetime stories in these songs.”
Northey said she envisions one day taking Arizona Originals beyond Tucson to perhaps Phoenix.