McMillan, who will play Friday night at Black Warrior Brewery, is a co-founder of the Black Warrior Songwriter’s Festival that celebrated its second year this past June. She and co-founders Matt and Nikki Ray of EatMyBeats in Tuscaloosa recognized the need for a musical outlet in Tuscaloosa.
“I’ve performed in lots of songwriter events,” McMillan said, “and I’ve always been struck by the amount of talent for original music in this area, with very few outlets.”
“It’s a huge jump from making music in your basement to actually making a living with your music,” said J Edwards, who will play Friday night at the Hotel Indigo rooftop. “The only way you can get there is for people to hear you, whether it’s people that can pay money to hear you or people that can make a difference in your career. It all comes back to being heard.”
Edwards was a late addition to the Festival lineup. He came to town for the Black Warrior Songwriter’s Festival on invitation from McMillan, who had seen him at the Mississippi Songwriter’s Festival. Don Staley, President and CEO of the Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission and the architect of the Druid City Music Festival, came out to Hotel Indigo where he heard Edwards play. Staley met Edwards’ wife, Diana Edwards, and after hearing J sing immediately asked Diana what they were doing on the days of the Music Festival. Diana shared that they had a commitment in El Dorado, Ark. on Aug. 24.
“He just sat next to me,” Diana Edwards said, “his wheels turning the entire time and every time J would sing, he’d lean over and ask another question. He apparently already had this entire festival lined up and finalized, and the whole time he was sitting there he was trying to figure out where he could squeeze J in. I confirmed that’s where we were going to be and said we were available to come on Friday and leave early Saturday so we could get to El Dorado. I think he actually added another venue to put J in the lineup. I’m so glad he was able to work it out. We’re very excited about coming.”
The Festival will host many out-of-town artists, but also some of our own Tuscaloosa residents.
Matt Jones, City Venue Assistant Operations Manager at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, has worked with Staley and the TTS for years.
“For a long time, Tuscaloosa was one of only a few college towns that did not embrace an original music scene. Don is actively helping to change that.”
Jones is also a local musician who will perform his Americana style Friday night at Loosa Brews.
“I’m a fan of artists that are singer-songwriters. It’s much more authentic for an artist to sing a song that they labored over to bring into the world.”
In addition to showcasing modern talent, this festival also creates an opportunity to pay tribute to the role our area has played in shaping music varieties over the years.
“A lot of people don’t know how much Alabama has influenced the blues and jazz genre or that we have so much amazing talent that is/was born and bred here,” said BJ Reed of B.J. Reed & Company and Executive Director of School Programming for the Alabama Blues Project.
“We also like to demonstrate how that musical legacy lives on, which is also why I love doing this show, because I get to showcase Alabama’s talent.”
Reed will perform the music of Billie Holiday and Tuscaloosa’s own Dinah Washington in the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center.
“I love this specific era of music. I’m so thrilled to finally be able to bring the show to Tuscaloosa and bring awareness to her Tuscaloosa roots. We have performed this particular show in other places but just never had the chance to do it at home,” Reed said. “And bringing the essence of Dinah and Billie to modern-day stages is an incredible opportunity I am blessed to have.”
Wes Lee of Mississippi, another artist connected through the Black Warrior Songwriter’s Festival, will play Friday Night at Black Warrior Brewery and again Saturday night at Hotel Indigo. Lee started playing music so young he doesn’t remember when he didn’t, and now he can play most every instrument to some degree. Lee caught the attention of the American Cancer Society with one of his songs.
“I was performing in a club,” Lee said, “and I introduced a song that I wrote called ‘Angel Eyes,’ which is the story of a person who lost a loved one in the September 11 attacks. A lady who was involved with the American Cancer Society was there, heard it, and approached me about that song to be used at Relay for Life events.”
The ACS also commissioned Lee to write a survivor song, “The Dance.”
“It was a special honor for my music to be received like that.”
Staley and his team have worked for over 18 months putting all the pieces in place to make this an event where artists want to perform, and people want to attend.
“I plan to attend the Druid City Music Festival,” said Christy Bobo, long-time Tuscaloosa resident and member of the Tuscaloosa Bicentennial Committee. “The amount of attention put towards planning this incredible festival for our city has been top notch and I certainly am excited to see the hard work of Don Staley and so many others come to fruition.”
It won’t just be the attendees and performers who benefit from this event. Every industry in Tuscaloosa will be affected positively by hosting an event of this magnitude that draws in people.
“The importance of events like this,” said Bobo, “is too great to ignore when you look at the numbers, the overall experience, and the payoff for our town. The funds generated over the weekend will enable and ensure successful future events. It’s a win-win for attendees and Tuscaloosa as a whole to support this undertaking. When we go show support for events of this nature. it builds what comes to our town in ways you might never expect. Plus, it’s a terrific way to escape the routine for a fun ‘stay-cation.’”
Wristbands are available through Ticketmaster until two weeks prior to the event. After that, any remaining available wristbands can be purchased at designated areas around Tuscaloosa. Visit the Druid City Music Festival website at dcmf2019.com for more information.