J.Robert is a musician on the move. With one major project wrapping up, he is ready to debut another.
All summer long, cognoscenti of Florida roots music have grooved to the sounds of the Florida Songwriter Showcase, a series of shows produced by Julius Robert Houghtaling, to give him his full name. J.Robert, an accomplished songwriter himself, invited his peers to perform their songs in shows at the Marco Players Theater, a venue where the audience was there to hear the music, not just drink and talk with a tableful of friends.
“That’s why they came from clear across the state,” Houghtaling said of the performers. “It’s a great listening room. There’s nothing like the feeling when an original song comes out of your mouth, and goes right into people’s ears, and their hearts.”
One show featured Naples resident Andy Wahlberg, “king of the harp guitar,” an extraordinary musician on a very distinctive instrument. His guitar, with an extra set of bass strings, along with the oversized hands of Wahlberg’s 6-ft. 7-in. frame, allows him to pull sounds out of the guitar not accessible to mere guitar pickers. He is an accomplished songwriter and showman as well, playing original compositions including “Chicken Shack” and “Humphrey the Whale,” humorous slices of life inspired by the Sunshine State and beyond. His instrumental “Emmet’s Rising” was definitely beyond, memorializing the fallen hero of a failed Irish rebellion.
While the songwriters for the series came from around Florida, a number of them were more local, and therefore well-known by Marco Island audiences. These included Wahlberg, Raiford Starke, who plays singles and with a full rock band at area venues including Goodland’s Little Bar, and Mitch Peters, longtime keyboard player at the Hilton Hotel, as well as “Gator Nate” Martin, who performs around Collier County with or without his Gladezmen band.
Additional local writers performing included “Sawgrass” Cindy Hackney, tropical rocker “Cap’n Jack,” and Native American songwriter Joerey Ortiz.
The Songwriter Showcase theoretically ended last Monday evening, after 13 different pickers played and sang, one each week, accompanied by multi-instrumentalist J.Robert, and with a jam session of other players thrown in for good measure. But one more evening has been added on Monday, Sept. 11, featuring Naples singer/songwriter Tim McGeary. A Nashville songwriter and retired Collier County EMS first responder, McGeary’s songs have been tapped for television shows including “Smallville,” “Glory Days,” and “One Tree Hill.”
This show is billed as an “encore presentation” of the Songwriter Showcase, and ticket prices have been reduced, at $20 apiece or two for $30. For 9/11, the performance will feature many patriotic songs, and a number of the performers who played previously will return to the stage, including Andy Wahlberg, Gator Nate, Marie Nofsinger, and J.Robert.
Even before that event, J.Robert’s music will be heard this coming Tuesday evening, when he will host a screening of the film created for PBS, “The Great Florida Cattle Drive – Unbroken Circles.” J.Robert created the film’s score, playing many of the instruments himself, including fiddle, guitar, dobro, harmonica, and more, along with a lineup of studio musicians.
The documentary tells the story of the Great Florida Cattle Drive of 2016, interspersed with 500 years of cattle ranching in Florida and how the state’s heritage breed of cattle nearly went extinct. Before the film, Houghtaling will perform songs he composed for the film, sometimes offering vocal versions of pieces that ended up as instrumentals in the score.
J.Robert’s score for the film draws on the vast sweep of musical influences in Florida, from Spanish guitar to fiddle tunes, old-time banjo, waltzes and even a little blues. The documentary screening will be at the Rose History Auditorium at 7 p.m. Sept. 5, free to Marco Island Historical Society members and $10 for non-members.
If you go
What: J.Robert’s Florida Songwriter Showcase Encore 9/11 Tribute
When: 7 until 10 p.m., Monday, Sept. 11
Where: The Marco Players Theater, Marco Town Center Mall, 1089 N. Collier Blvd., Marco Island
Information: Tickets are $20 each or 2 tickets for $30. Buy tickets at box office or call 239-642-7270 for reservations