Wednesday, May 23, 2007

They SAW, they conquer: Songwriters showcase talent

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Photo courtesy of the artist
Russ Glenn will be among the performers at the Songwriters Association of Washington (SAW) Songwriter Showcase on Friday evening.
Decades before there was ‘‘American Idol,” there was the Songwriter’s Association of Washington. The nonprofit organization that benefits both aspiring and professional songwriters was founded in 1979, and though it does sponsor contests and provide a showcase for talent, SAW does it in a kinder, gentler, more nurturing way.

‘‘I appreciate talent, and I like to show it to the audience,” says Joel Pomerantz, who has been involved with SAW since 1994 and joined the board in 2004. ‘‘I’m not so much of a performer, myself. I’m a songwriter, a bit of a novelty act.”

But Pomerantz is a supporter of local musicians, and of their audiences, too, and he knows how to provide a venue that’s conducive to both. On Friday, that venue will be The Oneness School in Chevy Chase; he’ll gather a lineup that starts at 7:30 p.m. with Russ Glenn, followed by David Kitchen at 8, Alexandra Rhoads at 8:30, Yvette Barnes at 9 p.m. and SAW president Jean Bayou at 9:30.

Funny mom

‘‘I always wanted to do it my way,” laughs Bayou. ‘‘This was kind of an offshoot of that.”

Bayou has been playing music ‘‘all my life.

‘‘I sat on my grandmother’s lap, picking out tunes,” she says.

She started writing songs about 18 years ago, funny songs, mostly, like ‘‘Daddy’s Got Dishpan Hands,” and ‘‘Thank God Christmas Comes But Once a Year.” They were the songs of a musical mom, looking for a fun way to express herself and comment on family life. But Bayou held her songs close for a long time.

‘‘I was just kind of putting them into a bag,” she says softly. ‘‘My friends knew, but performing [in front of strangers] was scary as hell. It was hell!”

So why, um, do it?

‘‘Because it’s a lot of fun!” she enthuses. ‘‘It’s great to hear people’s reactions to your songs, to put it out there.

‘‘It crystalizes everything: the sentiment, the emotion.”

Music man

Bayou has a day job — ‘‘I work with patent attorneys” — that balances out her singer-songwriter thing. Some SAW members are completely dedicated to the musician’s life.

‘‘I play acoustic rock,” says Russ Glenn, 33, who has been associated with SAW for about three years. ‘‘All kinds of different subjects but a little bit edgy: political commentary as well as love songs.”

Raised ‘‘a military brat,” Glenn now makes his home in Virginia.

‘‘I started playing guitar in high school,” he says, ‘‘I always wanted to be a singer⁄songwriter.”

He’s a record collector — ‘‘I collect vinyl” — who veered from his love of punk after he’d combed through his parents’ collection of LPs.

‘‘The Clash were my favorite band,” he says, ‘‘and the Dead Kennedys, Operation Ivy. But when I was digging through my parents’ LPs, I fell in love with Simon & Garfunkel, too.

‘‘As much as I loved punk, I loved folk.”

And has he developed a hybrid: Punolk? Folunk? No, no. Glenn reckons that acoustic rock captures every aspect he seeks to reflect. And he hasn’t ever done anything else.

‘‘When I was 20, I started playing open mics,” he says. ‘‘I learned that there are important aspects to having a community of musicians, meeting with them.

‘‘On your own, you can only go so far.”

All together

It’s a sentiment that reflects SAW practice. On Friday, they have a lineup that touches every base.

Rhoads, just 20, is the talented newcomer; Barnes is the seasoned soul singer. Kitchen is the Washington Area Music Association’s Songwriter of the Year and the Regional winner this year (and national finalist last year) of the NewSong Contest.

‘‘I haven’t played with these folks before,” says Glenn, ‘‘but knowing Joel, it’s going to be a high-quality show.”

Bayou says, ‘‘It all comes together to give people an opportunity to get out and play.”

She feels it’s about community – and quality, too. The slate of performers is a mix of talent and experience, but each is clearly at home on the SAW stage.

Expect no ‘‘American Idol” histrionics — or surprises.

‘‘Less experience, more experience; less talent, more talent,” says Bayou. ‘‘It’s a very supportive environment for artists and a great dynamic for fans.”

Sounds like a perfect pitch, dawg, delivered in tune. Forget AI; it’s all about SAW.

The Songwriters Association of Washington (SAW) will have a Songwriters Showcase on Friday from 7:30- p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at the Oneness School, located at the rear of St. John’s Episcopal Church, 6701 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase. A $10 donation to musicians is suggested. Call 301-654-8434.