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A spirit that is not afraid

The Opelika Songwriters Festival returns for its third year

<p>Opelika Songwriters Festival's headliner, Indigo Girls, wrap up main stage performances for Saturday.</p>

Opelika Songwriters Festival's headliner, Indigo Girls, wrap up main stage performances for Saturday.

The third annual Opelika Songwriters Festival, held from Thursday, Oct. 13 to Sunday, Oct. 16, featured 36 performers, including headliners The Indigo Girls, Rickie Lee Jones and Shawn Mullins. 

While Thursday was the official opening day of the festival, the major performances took place on Friday, Oct. 14 and Saturday, Oct. 15.

The main stage, on the intersection of North Seventh Street and North Railroad Avenue, was the center of the festival, but the event was a community effort. Locations across downtown Opelika, such as Resting Pulse Brewing and the Market Street Paint Shop, opened their doors to audiences and performers throughout the weekend.

On Saturday, attendees enjoyed the event with historic Opelika as the backdrop and a cloudless blue sky above.

“How great is this?” said Opelika resident Kathy Nist. “This little, small town, and we have all these people congregating, all this great talent, all these wonderful venues you can just walk to. You can wander around to any venue you want. You can pop in. You can listen to as much music as you want. You can people-watch. I mean, everyone is happy and excited. It’s wonderful.”

However, this wasn't a typical music festival where artists are escorted from VIP suites to stages in the back of luxurious limousines. Instead, the space between the artist and the audience was so small that musicians who finished their set would often enjoy the following artist from a seat in the crowd.

“These are the best shows because people are here to listen to every word that you sing about. They're here to connect with the songs and stories behind them,” said songwriter and producer Jeff Coplan. “They're really scary, it's easier sometimes to play in front of 10,000 people, but that's great. That's the immediate connection we make as songwriters."

Music wasn’t the only thing offered during the festival. 

Many musicians took time between sets to give workshops to aspiring songwriters and enthusiasts on topics like "How To Live Stream." One such event, titled "Guitar Tone," was an intimate conversation at Heritage House between less than 20 festival attendees and two artists booked to perform on Saturday night.

One of those artists was Grammy award-winning Opelika resident Larry Mitchell, a renowned guitarist, producer and engineer. 

The other was Cooper Carter, also a guitarist and a production consultant who has consulted for Taylor Swift, Metallica and Maroon 5. The audience included Carter’s wife and young children.

Weeks before the festival, young artists were encouraged to submit a song for the Student Songwriter Competition. Their music had to be original, and they had to be high school students. The winners performed on Saturday, Oct. 14, on The Sound Wall Music Initiative stage in the back of the John Emerald Distillery.

Brody Collins, 15, and Mia Rogers, 17, both Auburn High School students, and Mae Mckoy of LaGrange, Ga., were the 2022 winners. The trio played original music on a stage built in front of distillery equipment that reflected the green and blue lights of the stage into the audience.

"It felt amazing, you know?" Collins said. "It could have been anybody who won, and getting an email back that I got to get to perform for such a really cool festival, put on by some amazing people, it just felt amazing."

Rogers, who Mitchell invited to participate in a "jam" on Saturday evening, said, “I got selected like the last night possible, I was freaking out, but when I got the email, it was amazing." 

Opelika isn't a likely stop on a major world tour. However, the small venue sizes and the familiarity shared between the performers and the audience offer experiences that the State Farm Arena can't mimic.

“One of the golden nuggets of an event like this is you have the performer who actually wrote the song,” said Patrick Budjenska of Texas. “So, one of the things that it generates is a platform where they can go into what the motivation was, or what the event was, that caused them to come to this song.”

Additionally, and keeping true to its name, the Opelika Songwriters Festival allows artists to enjoy each other's work, laugh at their shared experiences and learn, all while bumping elbows with the people who came to enjoy their music.

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“It's an opportunity for seasoned songwriters to impart some of their knowledge onto maybe some younger folks to help them as they pursue their desires,” Budjenska said.

Ethan Flynn | News Writer

Ethan Flynn, freshman in journalism and finance, is a news writer at The Plainsman.

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