Thursday, August 21, 2008

Song School Second Installment: Melissa Ferrick

I took a class with Paul Reisler called Directed Writing, which was great but sort of intense and structured. It was 2-1/2 hours three mornings in a row. Most classes just met once. Everyday there was a morning session, lunch and then two afternoon sessions and open mic in the evenings. After the first Reisler class I wanted something more loosey goosey. There was an afternoon session with Josh Ritter scheduled but his flights had been screwed up and he wasn't there yet. I saw "Creative Songwriting Group" with Melissa Ferrick. The schedule offered no descrition of what this entailed and that appealed to me.

I had heard Melissa Ferrick's name before but hadn't heard her music and hadn't seen her yet at Planet Bluegrass. So, I was walking into who-knows-what. I soon found that she is a gem. She is super skinny hipster with black hair and big black rimmed glasses. She spent most of the time sprawled out in the grass while the rest of us sat in chairs in a circle. Her tour manager Bubba was with her and he is a delightful and charming guy.

The class was nothing earth shattering. We did a brainstorm cluster on paper. We all started with the work rock and did a word web/diagram thing. After a few minutes, everyone had riffed on "rock" and had a page covered in words. Our next task was to take 15 minutes and freewrite, trying to connect words from opposite sides of the page. This was good fun. When came back and read aloud what we had written. Some of it nonsense. Some of it hilarious. Some of it genius and some of it intriguing and worth pursuing in further writing. The best thing was just Melissa's vibe. She is smart and funny and open. She'd point out what she thought were interesting phrases or ideas. The group was full of great people too. Everyone pitched in and discussed the writings of others. It was nice to do something immediate--talk about a process, jam through it, write and share. Invigorating. At the end, Melissa had us all commit to something off our page to write about it.

Then she played a few songs. And members in the class played songs and she offered suggestions and comments. It was a very fun, very relaxing hour or so. Just what the doctor ordered.

Melissa gave us her cell # and told us that if we did actually write a song to call her or find her so she could hear it. Or if we had questions or wanted help/input on anything, we should track her down--she was at Song School all week and didn't play the festival until Sunday, so she would be accessible. Very generous.

I had chosen to write a song based on a riff I got into about gold lamE. If I knew how to make an accent, that would be a lower case e with an accent--shiny metalic fabric. You know what I mean, right? The ideas bumbled around in my head. Over the course of the evening they started to take shape. In the morning I sat out with my coffee, my notebook and my guitar and wrote and wrote. I wrote and crossed out and wrote more. I went to class but gold lamE was rattling around in the background. I ate my lunch, scribbled in my notebook, and noodled on the guitar and by the time for the next class Gold LamE was mostly complete.

I knew Melissa was having class in the same tent as the day before, The Spider Tent near the main stage. So after my afternoon session--with Josh Ritter who finally showed up (more on JR in Installment Three)--I walked over to find her. I started to feel sheepish. Really? I'm really going to walk up and just play this song? But I had no reason to believe that Melissa was anything but geniune when she said to do so and my mantra for the week was "this is your one shot at this, so take it." So, I walked up and announced that I had a song to play. After some initial bumbling and trying to remember--my brain was filled with Josh Ritter songs--I played it.

Melissa and Bubba's reaction was beyond what I could have imagined. They loved it. They asked me to play it again. We talked about where the lyrics were a bit rough and threw around ideas for patching them up. Melissa said, basically, that she thought this song should be cut in Nashville...and did I know her good friend Lori McKenna? And when I got home my first order of buisness was to demo this song and email it to Melissa so she could pass it on to Lori and whoever else she thought might be able to help me.


Lori McKenna is a Boston songwriter. Faith Hill cut like five of her songs on her last album and Lori has been the opener for Faith's tour.

If the story ends here I can still die a happy woman. That sort of affirmation does not grow on trees, my friends, and the sentiment alone made my week. If actions follow and something...anything...whatever...happens as a result of this amazing moment in time, well it will be the icing.

The next day Bubba tracked me down with a new plan. He thought that waiting for me to demo the song might take a while (true...though I have recording equipment in my possesion I still haven't done it...maybe tomorrow) so he wanted to video tape me playing Gold LamE. That way he'd have it on him if opportunity arose. So on the last night of Song School I sat in the Wildflower Pavillion and Bubba Mack, Melissa Ferrick's tour manager extrodinaire, videoed me singing my new song.

Once I record it, I'll see if I can't find a way to post it here so you can all hear me channelling my inner Dolly Parton.

So, I love Melissa Ferrick. Not only because of her kindness to me, but because she is funny, a fantastic songwriter and an amazing performer. Her set rocked. Hooray for Melissa Ferrick.


Angela said...

How exciting Em! Glad you had the opportunity to do this! Don't forget us when your songs get picked up and recorded! Love,

Steven said...

I just got butterflies in my tummy (for you) reading this. How cool! You should have said you had an in with Lori through your good friend Mark Erelli! :>) Can't wait to see the video and hear the song.

emdunbar said...

that's exactly what i DID say! "I don't know Lori, but I know Mark Erelli" The man's been to my house for fondue so felt okay dropping his name. He'll be back at the LR this fall with his new cd. LOVE that man.

Zoe said...

Can I just say how insanely jealous I am right now. I am huge Melissa Ferrick fan.

I'm a friend of steven. He linked me over here because he knew I'd be interested in your post. If you ever record your stuff I'd like to check to out.