FBISF magic is in the space between the writers and the back of the room
By Fran Thompson
Cynthia Adams, the woman tasked with matching writers with venues, says the FBISF magic is in the space between the stage and the back of the room.
“It’s the stories behind the songs. They are like golden nuggets to the audience,’’ she said. “What spurred them to write it? Hearing the writers tell those stories allows the songs to come to fruition. Each audience member goes home with a nugget.’’
Adams said during a good set, the audience becomes one of the song’s instruments. And that synchronicity allows for spontaneous magic moments.
“The underlying thread is like Joe (FBISF founder Joe Gilchrist) says, ‘music makes the world a better place,’’ and we are in a climate where the world could use a little sunshine,’’ she said. “This festival has survived all these years despite hurricanes, an economic crisis, a pandemic. So many things. But it is still a beautiful thing where magic happens.’’
In addition to scheduling writers and running the fest website, working from Georgia, Adams designs and produces the festival program.
Close to 200 songwriters will perform some of the biggest hits in modern country music during the event. And while the Flora-Bama will be the only venue for the final four days of the festival, during the first week, venues stretch from Summerdale (The Frog Pond) to Pensacola (From the Ground Up Community Garden).
Gilchrist, who passed away in May of 2022, was also co-owner of the Flora-Bama. He founded the FBISF in 1984 as a way to celebrate the end of the season with his own possible/probabale writers, visiting Nashcats and other musical friends. The first official FBISF was held at The Saenger Theatre in Pensacola. Gilchrist said he lost at least $10,000 on the venture.
“After that, I figured if I was going to lose that kind of money, I might as well have it at my own place,’’ he said.
The festival thrived at the Flora-Bama with 11 nights of non-stop music – usually ending with Gilchrist buying a round for the diehards – until 1994, when then event director Brucie Glassell spearheaded an effort to share the musical wealth throughout the community.
The festival is fluid by nature, meaning the schedule is subject to change. Even if you have a printed schedule, it is best to check Frank BrownSongwriters.com daily for updated info.
“We are nice people who are respectful,’’ said Gilchrist about the fest. “Quite frequently, these writers are unappreciated even within the music business. We’re glad to provide a listening environment where they can play, and it’s not background music. It’s living music that professes emotions and feelings that all of us have, but very few of us know how to express.’’
Jason Aldean and Thompson Square are among Nashville stars who played the fest. Both Billboard and American Songwriters magazines have recognized FBISF as the granddaddy of songwriter festivals, and it’s been called one of the Top 20 Events by the Southeast Tourism Society.
Most shows are free; a few venues charge a modest cover fee. The festival is named after the late Frank Brown, who was night watchman at the Flora-Bama for 28 years.