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Denton Songwriters Guild provides a creative support group

Denton Songwriters Guild provides a creative support group

Matt Grigsby leading a group discussion on overcoming roadblocks with song writing. Ruben Paquian

Denton Songwriters Guild provides a creative support group
February 21
22:02 2017

The aroma of chile con queso, the crackling of a fire pit and the gentle strumming of guitars fill the half-occupied patio at Agua Dulce Mexican restaurant off the Square.

“What do you do when you’re in a funk?” Matt Grigsby asked.

Grigsby moderates a conversation among the group of about 15 musical creatives. Exposure to a new genre, switching environments and changing frames of mind are just a few of the responses to his question.

As one of two founders of the Denton Songwriters Guild, this is a relatively usual Wednesday night occurrence.

The Denton Songwriters Guild was founded in October 2015 by Grigsby and Aaron Price, both longtime musicians and friends who used to frequent open mic nights together in Denton.

After their favorite open mic venue, Banter, closed down, the two started Denton Songwriters Guild as a creative outlet that would allow them to collaborate and mingle with like-minded musicians.

“We missed having that place to come together, so we created this organization so we could keep doing that and others could do the same,” Price said.

The guild meets from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. once a month on Wednesday nights.

“We’ve been around for about 15 months now,” said Olivia Countryman, one of five board members of the Denton Songwriters Guild. “We were meeting at people’s homes until November when Agua Dulce was nice enough to let us start using their space.”

This past meeting drew about 15 songwriters, but it’s not unusual for double that number to come out to a meeting.

Instead of just sharing music, the group tries to expand on discussion topics in order to better understand each person’s view of music.

“We start the meeting by opening up a discussion about a certain topic involving songwriting,” Price said.

These discussions typically last at least an hour. After a quick break, the group will then revisit to take turns onstage at the microphone.

Most of the attendees will share a song they have worked on for the past month. The songs, however, aren’t about just anything. Each month, a specific topic is chosen for the songwriters to base their tunes on.

“This month’s topic was no moon in June,” board member Landon Taylor said. “The topics are all kind of quirky. I think my favorite topic we did was about pirates.’”

Steven Jent performs his original song, “No Moon in June.” Ruben Paquian

The first performer of the evening was Westin Portillo, a 27-year-old dance accompanist at Texas Woman’s University. Portillo is a friend of Grigsby’s who discovered the guild through Facebook. This was the second meeting he attended.

Portillo says he does a lot of musical improvisation as an accompanist, but he has also been writing music for years.

“It’s a really good way to practice, perform and connect with other songwriters,” Portillo said.

Following Portillo’s performance was Steven Jent, who went back to school at UNT to study composition after retiring from IBM.

“I’ve learned writing is easy, but performing is the hard part,” Jent said. “I just want to be a songwriter.”

Despite the organization’s name, Taylor says they also aim to promote performance. The guild serves as an opportunity for songwriters to network and get booked for gigs in the area.

Throughout the evening’s performances, there is an evident sense of support and encouragement among the songwriting community.

“Hearing everyone play is a lot of great inspiration,” Countryman said. “Having that opportunity to really put pen to paper is so helpful.”

The board members said 2017 is already looking like a bright year for the guild. The group is looking to expand their group to more people around Denton County.

The group also just won the Denton Arts & Music Award for best literary and art collective.

“It was an honor to be recognized by the art community for the good we’re doing,” board member Billy Ratcliff said.

In addition to being new award recipients, the team at the guild is sponsoring the inaugural Denton Folk Fest in late March at the Jagoe House.

“I noticed there was a festival in Denton for pretty much every other genre,” Grigsby said. “There used to be a stronger folk scene, and I think it’s starting to have a resurgence.”

The Denton Songwriters Guild will host their next meeting at 7 p.m. on March 22 at Agua Dulce. Each meeting is open to the public, songwriters or not.

The group hopes to provide something new to Denton’s music scene, however. Instead of just focusing on the music itself, they want to help the musicians grow, as well.

“It’s a place where songwriters can work on their craft and improve,” Ratcliff said.

Featured Image: Matt Grigsby leads a group discussion on overcoming roadblocks with song writing. Ruben Paquian

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Abby Jones

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