On Saturday (May 24), music fans of all genres will gather at (likely sunny) Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., near Jacksonville, for the annual Roscolusa Songwriters Festival at Nocatee. Named after the event’s original location (a waterfront venue off Roscoe Blvd.), Roscolusa features songwriters behind a bevy of hits and other rising talents from Nashville.
The goal? To entertain (obviously), but also to pull back the curtain on how songs are created.
This year’s lineup boasts Jesse Rice, who co-penned Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” which set the mark for the longest reign (24 weeks) ever on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart; Phil O’Donnell, whose writing credits include Blake Shelton’s “Doin’ What She Likes” (a recent two-week No. 1 on Country Airplay) and George Strait’s “Give It All We Got Tonight”; and Stephanie Bentley, who co-wrote Faith Hill’s “Breathe,” the No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 song of 2000.
Also performing: Rick Ferrell (Tim McGraw’s “Something Like That”), Cassio Monroe, Phoebe Sharp, Bryan Dixon, Jamra, Melissa Bollea, Cassidy Ford, Meredith Rae and Kimberly Paige, the lattermost of whom founded the event.
Ahead of the celebration of the life cycle of a song, from its creation to performance, Paige discusses how Roscolusa began and what makes the songwriters festival special. Most importantly, it benefits the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation (spearheaded by the New York Giants head coach; admission is free, while VIP and benefactor tickets contribute to the charity).
Billboard: What makes a songwriter’s festival unique? I.e., how is it different than a typical festival or concert?
Paige: A songwriter’s festival is unique in many ways. At songwriter festivals, two or three songwriters perform on the stage at one time. They take turns playing the music they created and they share with the audience the stories behind the songs, how those songs came to be.
At Roscolusa, we try to create an intimate setting and decorate the stage to look like a living room. Many people have never had the privilege of sitting in someone’s home, listening to live music being played, and we want the audience to get a glimpse of that. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at music and how it begins, so to speak.
No matter what type of music your ears prefer, everyone can enjoy a songwriters festival because the music is acoustic, whose appeal is universal. So, a songwriters festival attracts fans of all genres.
Billboard: The setting itself – the Florida coast in springtime – seems only to add to what should be a really fun atmosphere. (Jealousy alert from the Northeast: the Jacksonville-area forecast for Saturday calls for mostly sunny skies and a high of 92.)
Paige: You are correct! We bring hard-working songwriters from Nashville to the beautiful beaches and Intracoastal Waterway of Ponte Vedra Beach for a fun retreat. As a singer/songwriter myself, I know how these kinds of retreats are important for our creative flow. Some of the best songs we write come out of trips like this. So, we try to make it as fun and relaxing as possible.
Billboard: At the recent SESAC Pop Awards, Visionary Award-winner Richard Gotterher mused that “Songwriters are visionaries. They are the people who imagine the things that a producer, a musician, an arranger can do something with. The song is the most important element.” I’m guessing that you, and all involved with Roscolusa, agree?
Paige: I couldn’t agree with that statement more. Songwriters are the creative minds behind the music. They are the builders of the foundation of the song. Music begins with a song. Songwriters plant the seed and producers water the plant.
Billboard: How did Roscolusa begin?
Paige: I was sitting at my publishing company in Nashville, back in 2012, just shooting the breeze with a few fellow songwriters. I told them about my hometown, Ponte Vedra Beach, and how much fun we would all have if we went down there to write some songs. I had numerous family and friends who would regularly travel to Nashville for the music, so I thought, “Why don’t I set up a show in a backyard [back home] and showcase the music that we wrote that weekend?” Everyone agreed, and about eight of us ended up going that summer.
We had such great reviews from the 150 or so people that attended that we decided to kick it up a notch. I got my family friend, Steve Nix, and my incredibly hard-working mother, Kathy Sullivan, involved for our second annual event last year. We moved it out to a new community not far from that backyard and 2,000-plus people attended. News of the festival spread mostly via word of mouth, with a few PSA spots on local radio. We couldn’t get over how many people came out and how much fun everyone had.
This year, the same team is handling sponsors and event-planning, and my good friend Jared Lemine and I are overseeing the website, artists and all things creative behind the scenes.
Billboard: Best of all, the event will benefit an important charitable fund. Can you talk about whose lives will improve as a result of the festival?
Paige: From the very beginning stages of Roscolusa, my ultimate goal was to get a charity involved as we grew. Our charity of choice this year is the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation. Its mission is to help families battling childhood cancer by providing practical, emotional and financial support.
Roscolusa is a great event supporting a great cause. Win-win!
Billboard: As a singer/songwriter yourself, take advantage of some free PR here and talk about your music and songwriting. What can the Roscolusa audience expect when you take the stage?
Paige: My goal last year was to write 100 songs, and I am currently working on my second hundred. I’ve been signed to Young Guns Publishing in Nashville for three years now. My song “Heart First” was No. 1 for country artist Kaylee Bell in Australia last year, which was just about one of the coolest things for me.
Now that I’ve graduated Belmont University, I am heavily pursuing my career as an artist. I’ve been in the studio for the past few months working on a six-song EP with Mark Hill and Richie Biggs, co-producer of the Civil Wars, and I’m so happy to say that it will be released this June. I have never felt so connected with my music and songs. These two, Mark and Richie, have done such an amazing job with our project. I can’t wait to showcase it at Roscolusa.
Billboard: What is your songwriting process? Do you sit down to write specifically, or do you wait for ideas to materialize? What goes through your mind as you create?
Paige: My songs usually start with combining a lyrical idea, written in my notes, with a melody I’ve recorded in a voice message. Typically, when I’m ready to sit down and start writing a song, I’ll listen to those messages and review lyrical ideas. When the song is meant to come to life, the two sides kind of magically come together and … voila … I have a start to a song.
I really enjoy the collaboration process in songwriting, so I tend to bring “starts” of songs to a specific co-writer that I think would be the best match to the song. I have a core group of co-writers I write really well with, so I try to get together with each one at least once every few weeks. Bill DiLuigi is one of my favorite co-writers. He and I try to write once a week, and we tend to come up with really cool artsy-vibey songs. Rick Ferrell is another co-writer I love writing with, and we tend to write fun, upbeat, country-rock tunes. Every songwriter brings a different element to the table. So, when I find someone that matches my writing style well, it’s something I like to hold on to.
When I’m writing lyrics for a song, I also think of a music video. Does what I’m saying make sense? Will people be able to create a mental image from my lyrics? I also think of analogies and metaphors while I’m writing. I have to understand where the song is going before I can just blurt out words. Some writers just spit out lines like their mind is chilling in an imaginary world of words that rhyme. I have no idea how they were inducted into such a cool town, but I sure do hope to visit it someday. I, on the other hand, have to talk out my thoughts until I circle around something that makes sense lyrically.
Billboard: How do you know when you’ve got a keeper of a song?
Paige: Typically the day after a co-write, when I’m listening back to the finished worktape, is when I know whether I’ve got a song or not. Songwriting can be so emotionally draining at times that it takes a toll on your creative decisions. So, it’s always best to let the song settle for a few hours and listen to it, with a fresh, open mind, the next day. That’s when you’ll know if you’ve written the world’s worst song or a song that you can’t wait to share with the world.