A Home for Singer-Songwriters
"Our common thread is that we grew up in the golden singer-songwriter era, loving artists like
James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Emmylou Harris."
“We canceled most of our
2021 indoor concerts, but still
found ways to move forward,
like monthly live-streaming
shows we hosted as fundraisers
for the harry Chapin Food Bank.”
The ACMA presents free concerts in the
downtown Fort Myers Public Library Plaza
the second Tuesday evening of each month.
The Reckless Saints, local favorites Roy Schneider
& Kim Mayfield, will be performing March 8
in the downtown Fort Myers Library Plaza.
by Gary Mooney
BOB WILLIAMS, Americana Community Music Association Vice President, tells me, “The ACMA is going on our 10th year in Fort Myers and Southwest Florida.” He continues, “Our sole purpose is to promote Americana music to local music lovers. We have roughly 100 singer-songwriter members as well as a few hundred non-performer ‘listener’ members. Our common thread is we are mostly in our 60s and 70s and grew up in the golden singer-songwriter era, loving artists like James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Emmylou Harris. The ACMA is where musicians and those who love music come together, forming our own community.”
Bob explains that the ACMA “books touring musicians who do this for a living and should be famous but are still under the radar. Imagine if Jackson Browne or James Taylor never got their lucky break and made it big, and today were retired, belonged to the ACMA, and played their lifetime of original material live before you. That is our typical ACMA artist.They write their own music and share the stories behind their songs in an intimate setting. When we first began the ACMA, it surprised me that the Fort Myers region had such a strong songwriting community, but then someone said that the Southwest Florida musical scene is like a light to a moth.”
Americana music has many definitions, Bob relates. “It is truly a catch-all, but at its heart, it is an acoustic style that combines influences like American bluegrass, country, folk, pop and rock. The thing about Americana, however, is it is not overproduced and has acoustic roots. It’s a mixture of all that.”
Bob says that there are two primary differences between an ACMA show versus hearing a musician perform at a bar or restaurant. First, “At an ACMA show, all you hear is original music by that artist. They never play ‘Mustang Sally’ or ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. In fact, we have an unwritten rule: the only time you will ever hear ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ at an ACMA concert is if Van Morrison is the headliner.”, adding, “The second is that an ACMA audience really listens to the performer. Everyone is quiet and no one talks or is on their cellphone or eating dinner while the entertainer plays. When you combine these elements, it makes for a unique venue.”
Bob notes that ACMA concerts can initially make some artists feel uncomfortable, “because many played in bars for years and suddenly they are in front of crowd giving them their full attention, so it takes a while to get used to that. A common problem for a bar performer is the ‘chicken & egg’ effect, where the crowd is loud so you increase your volume, so the crowd then gets louder, or the bartender turns up the television to hear it over the musician. The ACMA can host outdoor shows with a thousand people and we ask at the start, ‘how many of you are here to listen to the music,’ and almost every hand goes up. Then we say, “who is here to talk on your cellphone’ and not one does. That is an ACMA crowd and the performers really appreciate that.”
Audiences love hearing ACMA performers tell the stories behind their songs, especially if they write for nationally-known major artists, “as what they wrote and the artist records can be vastly different,” Bob explains. “Remember that most songwriters compose on just a piano or acoustic guitar, then the artist overproduces it in the studio or changes a verse or some lines to earn a songwriting credit share. At an ACMA show, the songwriter explains not only the meaning behind the song, but its original style, giving you an interesting perspective between their intent and the hit recording.”
“A typical ACMA show opens with a local singer-songwriter doing 30 minutes,” Bob says, “then the national headliner does roughly 75 minutes. Headliners come from across the country though now, because of COVID-19, most are from Florida.”
Bob points out that “there is actually more original music out there than ever”. He shares, “I am 68 years old and over the past 6 or 7 years have been performing my own original songs and that is so rewarding. People now record as easily in their own home as at a studio and release their material directly to the online world without a record company. This is true of all genres. If your thing is mandolin music with backing singers and a bass guitar, it is out there. Musicians post thousands of songs every day so now the most important thing is to perform them live before an audience. And that is where the ACMA comes in.”
As with everything today, COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the ACMA. “We canceled most of our 2021 indoor concerts,” Bob recalls, “but still found ways to move forward, like monthly livestreaming shows we hosted as fundraisers for the Harry Chapin Food Bank (raising roughly $15,000). Other popular events were a monthly in-depth interview program hosted by a local songwriter as well as the ‘Sunday Songwriters Circle’ on Zoom where an artist presented a half-dozen or so songs to a panel of 10-12 other songwriters for critiques and suggestions.
While we hope to continue regular indoor live shows safely again at All Faiths, fortunately outdoor forums like the Alliance of The Arts and Downtown Fort Myers Public Library allow us to host terrific concerts. If any other outdoor venues want to partner with the ACMA, please contact us.”
Bob provides a unique perspective on why music fans should attend ACMA shows: “To find your tribe. People today do not often join civic organizations so they are more likely to be alone, especially since COVID-19, and are almost desperate to find likeminded folks who enjoy what they do, and the ACMA tribe is such a welcoming group. Like everyone else, I cannot wait until the ACMA finds our ‘New Normal,’ whatever that eventually becomes, but fortunately we survived everything COVID-19 threw at us so far and are still in great shape membership-wise and music-wise. It goes back to that ‘moths to light’ analogy: our singer-songwriters and listeners really do come back to us like moths to a flame, so we cannot wait to continue our regular full-time lineup again.”
To Bob, the most exciting aspect of the ACMA “is when some unassuming person sitting in the corner takes the stage with their acoustic guitar and starts playing and all of a sudden, you shout, ‘Oh My God’ because their songs and stories are so unbelievably good, and then you discover they live right around the corner from you. Another is when you are writing a song and think you are really onto something, then you hear another ACMA member’s original composition that just blows you away and forces you to step up your game. Those ACMA elements make musical magic.”
The ACMA hosts ticketed indoor concerts on many Saturday evenings at the All Faiths Unitarian Congregation ‘Listening Room’, located at 2756 McGregor Blvd. in Fort Myers, from 7-10 pm, as well as at the Alliance for The Arts, located at 10091 McGregor Blvd. on select Sundays at various times.
The average ACMA ticket price is generally in the $12 range with non-members at around $18. An ACMA membership is just $35 annually and is tax-deductible.
It also presents free concerts in the Downtown Fort Myers Public Library Plaza, at 2450 First St. the second Tuesday of each month from 6-8pm. Bob says, “The next two are March 8, with Kim Mayfield & Roy Schneider, two of our area’s favorite artists, who perform together as the Reckless Saints. On April 12, we present David Hintz and Ross Jordan, two talented musicians who perform as The Obstructionists.” •
For information about the ACMA and its upcoming concerts, visit americanacma.org or the Americana Community Music Association page on Facebook.