Wednesday, August 27, 2008

LDS Musicians Festival 2008

Getting our peculiar groove on.

As I write this I’m recovering from six months of planning, organizing, and near stomach ulcers from helping put together this year’s LDS Musicians Festival for 2008 sponsored in part by and and several other great sponsors.

Our group, of die-hard internet musician friends at, has been together and growing since 1999 when folk singer and founder Brad Thompson first put out a call to the World Wide Web in search of other LDS Musicians. The first to answer the call was LDS hard rocker Mark Hansen. Since 2000 there has been a yearly gathering of some of our members to share music amongst ourselves and the community almost every year.

This year, with the help of and many other great sponsors like, a few of my favorite online music friends were able to meet face to face and share an inspiring weekend of music at the Springville Arts Park and at Showtime Utah,, in Pleasant Grove Utah. Everything from rap to soft Sunday sounds was heard as we came together for our annual fest. Most arrived in spirit though since our members, nearly five-hundred, are spread around the world via the internet and getting to Utah to attend is expensive.

Friday night was dedicated to the youth, a first for our group, and while the numbers were small (note…text messaging among teens is the best advertising…try it next year) we showed the teens of the Springville community that came that you can rock hard, like Mark Hansen, with positive songs or dance to great beats and clean lyrics with the help of DJ Shawn Phillips of Movin’ fm 100.7 in Utah and hip-hop artist Arythmatik from Arizona.

Arythmatik is a Mormon hiphop/rapper who focuses on positive and clean living messages for the youth with his very urban sound. My teenage son and nephew totally loved his style and had a great time when he performed, especially when he had my nephew get on stage to show off his break dancing skills.

My nephew also loved break dancing on stage with Alex Boye Saturday night at the end of our headliner concert featuring the great folk/jazz/singer/musician Sam Payne and Alex Boye fabulous pop artist and Mormon tab choir member. The concert opened Saturday night with power house singer Jen Marco Handy and her group “Shine” and blues man Neil Bradley Owen. It was a great concert on a gorgeous summer evening with only a few crazy sound blips due to wind. Thanks to the support and efforts of the sound engineers with London Sound we were able to have the best sound, overall, our fest has ever had.

Saturday, during the day, was filled with a chance to meet and hear the music from new and old friends of our group like children’s songwriter Annie Bailey, members of the beautiful harmony group “Musically Inclined”, Mark Hansen, Sam Payne, Steve Brown (this year’s Fest President), Neil Bradley Owen, and many more including some we’d never heard of. They came in from the community to hear the music and wound up sharing their own during our open mic.

This year we celebrated one more first that everyone agreed was great fun…The “Green Jell-O Awards”. A clear plastic fancy swirled trophy with a picture of a bowl of green Jell-O in the middle and a little green plaque below telling what the award was for. A homage to the early fest’s days when a few bigwigs of the LDS music industry referred to the fest gathering as a ward talent show on steroids and a “Green Jell-O” event. Our founder took that as a complement as we are the music of the people…but hey, as they say “We’ve come a long way baby”. And as Greg Hansen, of Sounds of Zion noted when he joined us this year “I can’t believe how much talent is in your group?”…Yup, indeed we’ve got that covered. Our awards were few but fun with such areas of achievement as “Longest Poster”, “Most Encouraging Member”, “Farthest Traveled”, etc. with our first “Life Time Achievement” going to Mark Hansen.

Since I had been so busy preparing the fest behind the scenes, and taking care of my family over the last few months, I had only briefly noticed that I had been put on the “Songwriter’s in the round segment” for Saturday afternoon. Songwriting rounds, often seen in Nashville bars and clubs, are where a few selected songwriters share the stage and take turns sharing the songs (often well known ones) they’ve written. The songwriters generally don’t make them famous, the singers do, but there’s nothing like listening to the heart of a songwriter as they sing a popular radio tune the way they first played it out on their acoustic guitar.

So when it was time for me to get up there I wound up on stage in between two very well seasoned performers Sam Payne and Neil Bradley Owen (who not only write their songs, but make them popular by singing them in concerts often) along with Mark Hansen who’s usually heard singing his songs to a rockin’ minus track. I felt so unworthy, especially considering I’d hardly had time to practice and was the only one up there of the four of us without an album. But it was a blast to perform again, nervous as I was, and be the one who could be counted on to humor the crowd with my inability to remember my own lyrics.

Sunday was the culmination with our music devotional held at the Showtime Utah theatre in Pleasant Grove. Joan Peterson, who is known in Utah for hosting the “Sounds of the Sabbath” on KOSY 106.5 every Sunday, graciously allowed us to use her theatre for free. It had a great sound system and we were able to hear from such terrific singers as Jen Marco Handy, Lindy Kerby, Musically Inclined, songs by Annie Bailey with her young guest artists Hannah Ford, Natalie Gale, as well as Jen Marco Handy singing with her sweet daughter. Award winning songwriter Steve Brown endeared the crowd to his wonderfully funny folk style when he sang his hilarious song “Sister Hathaway’s casserole”. Nicole Sheahan with her beautifully unique vocals, Mike Weingarten, Jen Marco Handy and Lisa Harris with the group “Shine” also shared some amazing songs. The evening ended with the powerful and soulful vocals of Hope Goshurn and Kavita King singing “When You Believe” from the musical “Prince of Egypt”. Punch and cookies were served afterwards in true Mormon style.

So now, that months of planning are done and my life is slowing down again, I’m left with the wonderful memories of another fest, ideas on how to make it better next year, and plenty of leftover pop and snacks that didn’t sell…a near year supply of junk food which are making great fillers in my kid’s lunches.

Take care, till I write again and I hope you will join our LDS Musicians fest next year and discover some great new artists in person.

Julie Keyser

Return to the Neighborhood.

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