BY JEREMY SHERE
It’s no secret that Bloomington is a musical town, anchored by institutions including the IU Jacobs School of Music and the annual Lotus Festival. But even locals may be surprised to learn that Bloomington is also a hotbed of songwriting talent. Even beyond established professionals such as Carrie Newcomer, Tim Grimm, and Krista Detor, Bloomington is teeming with songwriters worth noting.
“Talent-wise I think we stack up very favorably with bigger cities like Nashville [the one in Tennessee] and Austin, Texas,” says Suzette Weakley, a Bloomington-based songwriter and one of the founders of the weekly Bloomington Songwriter Showcase at Players Pub on South Walnut. “Our local writers more than hold their own when they share the stage with the nationally touring writers who play the Showcase.”
Although Bloomington has been home to songwriters for decades, the local scene began to coalesce only recently, with the advent of the Songwriter Showcase in 2005. “We [Weakley and her then bandmate Bobby Lancaster] were on our way back from playing a showcase at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville [Tenn.], and thought, ‘Why don’t we try something like that in Bloomington?’” Weakley recalls. “Our goal was to provide really good local writers with incentive to write and improve their craft without having to travel long distances to do so.”
Soon after creating the showcase with other local songwriters, including Dave McConnell, Dr. Matt Caldwell, Tom Annese, Doug Enoch, and others, the weekly event began to draw more and more talent. Today the Monday night showcase is booked year-round, featuring a revolving roster of more than 400 local and regional songwriters. Along with Players Pub, several other venues have begun featuring local songwriters playing original music, too, including Max’s Place, Rachael’s Cafe, Café Django, and The Pourhouse Café. Some local songwriters—Mark LaPointe, Jenn Cristy, Brandon Pfeiffer, and Daryl Robinson, to name only a few—have begun to develop followings, while many others have been galvanized to hone their writing and performing skills.
Weakley appreciates the city’s efforts to support the arts, including original local music, and hopes to see the songwriter scene thrive and grow. “How about creating something like a Lotus Festival for local acts?” she says. “That could go a ways toward marketing Bloomington as an entertainment destination in the tradition of Nashville and Austin.”