SS Cape May - Songwriters' Festival
By Debra Donahue
Cape May, NJ - Fairly new to the Cape May attraction menu is SS Cape May – the Singer-Songwriter conference - now in its second year and converging on our fair city on March 27-28.
Having spent the last decade in both Cape May and Nashville, I have furthered an already-deep appreciation for songwriters. I live with a songwriter, my best friends are songwriters, and on any given holiday, they surround my kitchen table. I get to hear the best music I’ve ever heard in my life, most of which hasn’t been heard on commercial radio…much to my chagrin.
The good news is that visitors to this seaside resort will have a rare opportunity to experience what I’ve been fortunate enough to experience every day.
No, you’ll not hear any over-covered cover tunes hashed and rehashed at the hands of unpracticed bands. Rather, this is on the other end of the spectrum: two delicious nights of showcases in 13 venues with over 100 songwriters from solo acts to full bands.
The conference itself is jam-packed morning noon and night, with opportunities for singer-songwriters to perform their original material, and to network with other writers. The conference takes place at Congress Hall.
But the impressive showcase schedule of performances, open to the public, takes place in many other venues all around town including Congress Hall, Lucky Bones, the Mad Batter, Cabanas, the Merion Inn and several more.
For those hungry for original music, SS Cape May will seem like heaven on earth. Here's just a sampling of the many many talented songwriters who will be descending on Cape May this month:
Solo performer Pauline Pisano
is an intriguing songwriter with solid lyrics and a profoundly unusual voice. This is a huge under-statement, because Pisano’s vocals are more than powerful — she has pipes that are rare and impressive with a range that sails easily from the basement to the heavens.
There’s also a catch in her voice that is beautifully showcased in her phrasing and it’s a voice with a quality I call “broken glass.” It’s not smooth and perfect like an operatic soprano…it’s textured and rich and “vocastic.” That’s a made-up word I use to describe someone who performs vocal gymnastics. There may be a lot of good places to be on Friday, March 27th, but the Brown Room at Congress Hall at 9:30PM is an excellent bet.
Don’t miss the irresistible Brooklyn band The Mumbles. They are a three-member band with a huge sound and a range of styles that make them all the more interesting. Keyboardist/singer Keith Burnstein and drummer Ethan Shorter met while playing in the rhythm section of a 14 piece live hip-hop orchestra. They found performing as a duo to be more liberating. Adding the dulcet vocals of Meredith Claire enriched their sound even more.
There’s a decidedly jazzy-Caribbean-funky-cool sound to The Mumbles. The musicianship of Burnstein and Shorter are at once precise and free, and Clarie’s vocals are unearthly and haunting, reminding you a bit of the bluesy-jazzy Erykah Badu. See them live at The Boiler Room at Congress Hall, Saturday, March 28th at 10PM.
Michelle Dawn Mooney
Even closer up the pike is solo performer Michelle Dawn Mooney who hails from Atlantic City.
You might recognize her as one of the weeknight news anchors on Channel 40 in Atlantic City, or maybe as a contestant in the Miss New Jersey pageant in the 90’s. You surely will recognize Mooney as an immense talent.
Her vocals are soaring, and her songs are lyrically rich. Her sound straddles the genres of pop and jazz and country, an unusual mix that she succeeds in delivering to her audience. Mooney plays a dual role in SS Cape May, also serving as a media panelist in the conference. If you’re not registered for the conference, give her a listen at The Ballroom at Congress Hall, Friday, March 27th at 10:20PM.
If you’re looking for music which is more on the rock-inspired side, you can’t miss with Lisa Bianco.
Based in New York City, Bianco has achieved an artistic balance between her punk rock passion and her singer/songwriter introspection. She has emerged from New York’s underground music scene with praise from the media and a healthy fan base with whom she has a most visceral connection.
Her music is lyric driven and eclectic — you will hear hints (but not imitations) of Joan Jett, Blondie, and also Led Zeppelin and The Bangles. Her music has been described as “an interesting blend of alternative, guitar rock, and pure punk aggression which led to a very distinct calling.” Check her out at The Pilot House on Friday the 27th at 11:45PM.
This is just a very small sampling of the many many singer-songwriters performing in SS Cape May. Pick up the final schedule of performances at Congress Hall Friday, March 27.
Robert Hazard Tribute
In addition, make sure to stop by A special Tribute To Robert Hazard at 5:30PM on March 27th.
More than 10 notable artists will perform in the Grand Ballroom at Congress Hall. Robert Hazard was the keynote speaker last year, and passed away suddenly in August 2008.
Many people know Robert Hazard as the song writer of the 80's hit, Girls Just Wanna have Fun. Robert was born and raised in Philadelphia and in later years he and his wife owned a business in Cape May.
Another free public event is the musical keynote from Chris Barron. Best known as the
lead singer for the Grammy nominated Spin Doctors, whose debut
Pocket Full of Kryptonite sold over 10 million units worldwide, Chris Barron wrote two top five Billboard songs "Little Miss
Can't Be Wrong" and "Two Princes." Barron performs at SS Cape May on Saturday March 28th at 5:15PM.
SS Cape May is the brainchild of John Harris, owner of an entertainment consultancy firm that promotes and produces events for corporate, government and non-profit clients. Harris’ premier event has been the Harrisburg-based Millennium Music Conference, now in its 13th year, showcasing more than 300 artists performing original material.
Harris is enthusiastic about what this conference means for singer-songwriters. “This is a tough business,” notes Harris, “and SS Cape May gives these writers access to successful people in the industry.”
So get your ears ready for SS Cape May! It’s free, in an unbeatable location, and besides, all the really cool kids are going to be there.
Debra Donahue is a writer and public relations gal with a long history in Cape May.