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Jax Songwriters Residency Brings Musicians To Live And Work Downtown

Musicians from around the country are being invited for a week to be part of the music scene in downtown Jacksonville. It’s an offer brought to them by the Jacksonville Songwriters Residency program, which allows musicians to work on songs, play a show, and interact with local musicians.

Earlier this month, The Omni Hotel in downtown Jacksonville celebrated their restaurant grand opening with a concert showcase featuring Woody Pines–an established folk singer who traveled from Nashville to spend a week at the hotel.

Pines stood alone on stage with his top hat and harmonica, strumming his guitar before roughly eighty people. It was a showcase for the monthly Jacksonville Songwriters Residency, founded by New York native Brad Lauretti.

“I thought of it because this is how I actually came to Jacksonville in the first place,” Lauretti said.

Two summers ago, he arrived here with the goal to play music and ended up crashing at a friend's house for three months.

“Tried to figure out whether or not I could stay or make money, or essentially survive. Kind of like an informal residency program,” he said.

Once a month, the residency invites songwriters nationwide to work on songs while staying in Jacksonville’s Spark District–the urban cultural core of downtown.

Even beyond the Spark District, Lauretti says Jacksonville’s music scene has always been vibrant.

“Not just Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers and all that stuff," he notes. "Woody Guthrie spent a lot of time down here in Fruit Cove. Ray Charles–I mean there’s so much musical history in Jacksonville.”

A year ago, Lauretti pitched the idea of the residency at the One Spark festival. The Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville granted him $9,000 of privately raised funds for the program, of which each artist gets a portion.It pays for: travel costs, hotel fees, and a stipend.

Woody Pines didn’t want to pass it up.

“Brad wrote me and I was like 'is he for real?' To pay for my flight, to come down and put me in the Omni Hotel. It’s very nice accommodations. I’m used to sleeping on couches,” Pines said.

Pines came here to write songs for his new record, and says this has been a needed break from frenetic tour life.

“Sometimes you get wrapped up in the whirlwind of music business and stop writing about colors of the sky. I think it’s important for artists to take a break and get inspired,” he said.

At the showcase, Katy Reichlin was surprised because she remembers seeing Pines play a few years back at her college in North Carolina.

“I think it will benefit the music scene by bringing new songwriting culture to the region, because everybody has their own influence–everybody has their own style,” Reichlin said.

Lauretti wants to emphasize the importance of songwriters.

“The Omni gets it–they value culture, they value musicians, and that’s why we work together. That’s what I’m really excited about,” he said.

Ultimately, Lauretti hopes this program will someday put Jacksonville on the map as a hot spot for musicians and fans.

“The cost of living, low unemployment, climate, and all the music venues and festivals. These are the ingredients that musicians are looking for."

Next month you can see Dave Heumann of Arboretum on stage. He’s been noted as the lead singer of “the best doom-folk band” in the world, and will be the program's fourth resident.

You can follow WJCT on Twitter @WJCTJax.

WJCT News Intern Michaela Gugliotta is a Multimedia Journalism Major at the University of North Florida. She is also a reporter for Spinnaker News.