Songwriter showcase: J. Robert hosts original music in Goodland ‘jamboree’

Lance Shearer

The point, said J. Robert, is to expose people to “music they won’t hear on the radio.”

The tunes played on the stage at Margood Harbor Park on Friday night were originals, Florida tunes sung by Florida songwriters, performed by their creators. There might have been more people that evening taking in the show at Stan’s – about 60 filled the auditorium and makeshift museum at Margood – but the audience at J. Robert’s Florida Songwriter Showcase were there to listen.

The performance on Friday was a continuation of showcases J. Robert has hosted before at other venues including the Marco Players Theater, but this was the first time in Goodland, a community original enough itself to make it seemingly the perfect venue for original music.

The headliner Friday was Tallahassee-based singer-songwriter (and poet and activist) Grant Peeples, who brought his highly personal take on life, Florida, and social justice issues to the show. With Peeples, the lyrics and the message were paramount, with the musical accompaniment spare and minimalist.

He led off with “Grant’s Talking Blues,” something of a rant about those who are “oblivious to the demise of our fragile planet” and other concerns, and continued with, among other compositions, “Gay and Lesbian Sons and Daughters of the Southern Confederacy,” the story of a unique float in the July 4th parade. Another song really is a poem, “My Advice to Pilgrims,” the title piece from a book of poetry Peeples recently published, to join his previous book, “Bad Poems.”

While Peeples is distinctly and definitely an original, his music evokes other songwriters with a message, including Bob Dylan and Arlo or perhaps Woody Guthrie, but particularly John Prine, along with the lesser known Todd Snider. The crowd listened intently, as Peeples held them in the palm of his hand, talking almost as much as singing.

The talking is kind of the point of the songwriter showcase, with the story behind the song prominently featured. This was true also of J. Robert’s portion of the show, in which he told about his song “Land of the Walking Trees” and other music featured as the score of an upcoming film about Rookery Bay that will be aired throughout the state on PBS-TV and premiered at Silverspot Cinema in Naples in April. Other stories included camping outside the Troubador in Los Angeles for a chance to perform, and meeting Tom Waits doing the same.

The evening also featured Charlie Pace, born just 15 years ago in Naples and living now in Everglades City. Like the other performers, she accompanied herself on guitar, although she also plays upright bass in her school’s jazz band. Her guitar stood out by being purple. Pace’s songs included “Blue Eyes,” with the refrain, “what do I mean to you?”

“It’s about a boy,” she said. “This is the part where you roll your eyes.”

The hall where the performances is as different as Goodland is. Festooned with cardboard cutouts of movie stars including John Wayne, Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, a skeleton on stage, old posters, a toboggan, and an oversized Key Marco Cat replica on wheels, the room oozes character and individuality.

The songwriter showcase events are a little loose and unscripted – again, much like Goodland.

“It’s spontaneous,” said J. Robert. One performer originally listed for Friday’s show is now booked for the next, and most likely final, performance in the series. That is scheduled for Friday, April 26, featuring north Florida standout John R. Butler, along with Matthew Chadwick and Marie Nofsinger. Suggested donation is $10 at the door.