Grateful Web Interview with Park City Songwriter Festival Founders

Article Contributed by gratefulweb | Published on Friday, August 2, 2019

Park City Songwriters Festival is an event for storytellers—providing an intimate music experience with some of the world’s most profound songwriters across five venues in Park City, UT on September 13 & 14th. There will be workshops, panels, songwriters in the round & concerts each night from headliners like Anders Osborne, Marc Broussard & North Mississippi Allstars. Park City Songwriter Festival’s inaugural lineup has collectively won 17 Grammys, 12 Grammy nominations, 3 ACM awards, 3 CMA Awards, and 59 number one songs. Not only does this festival showcase incredible storytellers, but it shines a light on mental health and addiction recovery challenges that are most prevalent in the music industry now more than ever. PCSF has partnered with Grammy’s MusiCares organization, as well as headliner Anders Osborne’s Send Me A Friend Foundation. PCSF wants to advocate for the writers just as much as they do for the songs. We spoke with co-founders Aaron Benward and Ben Anderson about the festival including what to expect, what they are excited about, and why this matters. For more information, visit the festival website for tickets:

GW: What inspired you to start Park City Songwriter Festival? Was it the town itself or something more? 

AARON BENWARD: Once I stepped foot onto main street in Park City, I knew that it was home for a dream I have had for a while - a songwriter festival. The songwriter experience is an intimate experience, and the town, main street, and the people of Park City make the perfect recipe for such a moment to take place. 

GW: You're providing attendees with an opportunity to both hear great songs and to educate themselves, joining a conversation about addiction and how it affects our musical community. Tell us about some of the speakers and what attendees can expect from the health discussions. 

BEN ANDERSON: Part of what we are trying to achieve is true integration of mental health and addiction discussions into the fabric of the festival. We're going to have time blocks with acoustic songwriters 'in the round' at various venues, and we will have at least one sober musician on each stage sharing their stories. Addiction, recovery, and mental health permeate the lives of everyone in the music community - from artists to fans. We want the festival to bring awareness and showcase resources to those who are confronted with these issues. Anders Osborne and Harold Owens are both great examples of people in the music community who tackle the subject of addiction in a way that is both very personal and very relatable. 

GW:  Tell us about Park City! Why is this little mountain town ideal for a festival like this?

Aaron: The beauty of Park City is unrivaled, the spirit of Park City is electric, and the people of Park City are of the highest order.

GW: Songwriters are a unique breed. Do you have a favorite "story behind the song" from a songwriter you admire? 

Aaron: Earl Bud Lee, who wrote “Friends in Low Places” for Garth Brooks, sold his portion of that song to pay off a long-standing bar tab in Nashville.

GW: All genres are represented at this festival it seems. Country, rock, soul, and more. What was your programming strategy? 

Aaron: We want PCSF to be an all-genre musical experience showcasing the song and the songwriter because when you strip all the instruments away, the crafting of the song and the story behind it erases all genres to become one universal language of music. 

GW: Tell us about the great work Send Me A Friend and MusiCares are doing to support musicians, songwriters, players, and more. Why did you decide to partner with these organizations? 

Ben: Send Me A Friend is near and dear to our hearts because it provides a lifeline to artists and music industry members on the road by offering them a support system no matter where they are - a sober 'friend' who can talk to them, come to their show, or hang out afterward and offer another sober person to lean on. We're honored to be partnering with the Grammys' foundation MusiCares. MusiCares covers a wide range of financial, medical, and personal emergencies for those in the music community. Giving back and helping others is a core value for this town and so it's a very important part of the Songwriter Festival. 

GW: This is a smaller festival which will provide a personal experience. And it showcases the many venues that Park City has. Because of the size, what are you hoping attendees take away from their experience? Some of the bigger festivals I've been to feel so impersonal, and it's hard to connect, but with this being a songwriters festival it seems intimacy is key. Do you have any thoughts on this? 

Aaron: PCSF is about connection. You are connecting to each other, connecting to beauty around you and connecting to the song. Attendees will be within 5-100 feet of all the artists performing because of our venues. There is no big light show, no smoke and mirrors - just a story, a song, and a troubadour looking straight into your soul.