by Hannah McCarthy
The Martha’s Vineyard Songwriter’s Festival touches down on the Island this September for the third year. Previously promoted and hosted by BMI, this year the country music festival has been organized by New England to Nashville (NETN), a group founded in 2012 by Matt Casey. The event includes a songwriting workshop on Sept. 14 and 15 and a concert at Flatbread on Sept. 14.
“I didn’t grow up listening to country music,” said Mr. Casey, who lives in Boston. “I became interested in it when I was able to travel to Nashville for my work, and I was able to learn how the music is made. It’s a very collaborative process.”
When Mr. Casey isn’t promoting or writing country music he runs a website called Hiremagnet that includes a few specific branches such as CampusRN, geared toward grads looking for nursing jobs.
Mr. Casey returned from Nashville with a desire to write country songs and work with other musicians. It started small, two or three people meeting once a week to workshop, and then grew by word of mouth.
“Most of the people come from a different genre — bluegrass, folk, rock — and become interested in the Nashville style of writing,” he said.
Songwriter Will Robinson will join Mr. McCormick at the festival.
NETN provides a community for New England country musicians, or musicians with New England ties, to find their way into the Nashville scene, Mr. Casey said. The group works closely with NSAI, the Nashville Songwriter’s Association International.
The workshops will be hosted by Mr. Casey at his family’s Island home. Established songwriters Jim McCormick, Brian Mahar and Will Robinson will join instructors Steve Bloch and Steve Seskin during the weekend retreat.
The emerging musicians, referred to as the “young guns” by Mr. Casey, will both attend the workshops and perform at the Flatbread event. Many of these younger musicians have transported their lives to Nashville in order to pursue their musical careers.
“It’s tough,” said Mr. Casey. “There are so many people trying to do it. But even for someone like me, who has a different job and a life, and can only make it down a couple of times a year, it’s a very welcoming environment.”
NETN provides connections to hit songwriters and people with experience in the business, but “you have to earn your stripes,” Mr. Casey said. “These songwriters may be willing to sit down and work with you, but they want to see you put your time in.”
Everyone is a writer in Nashville, Mr. Casey explained. “That’s how you meet people, that’s how you get your name out there. You have to be willing to write. And if you’re committed, you can work your way into better writing rooms.”
Workshop attendees have the opportunity to work with experienced songwriters and to get their work seen and voices heard. The weekend event will also benefit the Martha’s Vineyard teen center, Alex’s Place, as well as The Alliance for Children, an international adoption agency and charitable foundation run by Mr. Casey’s mother, Filis Casey. Mr. Casey sees the event as helping these organizations as much as it is an opportunity for budding songwriters.
New England to Nashville begins off-Island in Boson with a concert at Church in Boston on Thursday, Sept. 12. On Friday the artists come to the Vineyard for a Friday night barbecue then the workshops begin on Saturday
and the evening concert at Flatbread starts at 7 p.m. There is also a Red Sox game planned and some more one-on-one song critiques in Boston. Mr. Casey offers a discounted rate to Island residents who are interested in attending the off-Island events.
“My friends thought that I was crazy when I first told them I wanted to write country songs,” Mr. Casey laughed. “Two weeks ago, 102.5 (Boston’s country music station) surpassed Kiss 108 as the number one station in Boston. Country has really taken off. So I went from people scratching their heads about my wanting to go to Nashville, to getting asked if I can get them tickets to country shows.”