January 15, 2009

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The 30-day song challenge
Songpull nights showcase the artist at work
By Dana Unger dunger@hippopress.com

Every month at The Shaskeen in Manchester, songwriters from all walks of life, professional and amateur alike, take the stage, face the camera and the glare of lights, and perform an original song. At first blush, this may seem like your run-of-the-mill open-mike night, but this isn’t an open mike. This is Songpull.

Songpull is a national movement based around the push for original music that challenges participants to compose a song in 30 days and then perform it in front of a live audience. The performances are recorded on video and are generally acoustic in nature.

Danville musician Bruce “Juice” Dovidio decided to bring his own Songpull to Manchester after attending a similar event in Lowell.

“This guy there was doing an invitational songwriting night,” Dovidio said. “You had to be invited — he would only take you if he liked your music. I got invited to play every week, but I really wanted to write, and one day I came across the Songpull Web site and realized I wasn’t alone in wanting something like this. I mean, there’s open mikes everywhere, but they get boring, and it ends up being the same songs and the same people.”

A year and a half ago, Dovidio began doing his own Songpull nights, held the first Monday of every month at the Shaskeen. The first events Dovidio did were admittedly a little rough.

“We started off with these cheap camcorders, recording just off of the mikes,” Dovidio said. “Then we had this one guy show up to play and he said he had all of these cameras and equipment sitting in a box. The next time he showed up, it was like a TV station had come through the door.”

Dovidio posts all the Songpull performances online at his Web site, www.juicerocks.com, and on the Songpull Web site, www.songpull.com, where other performances from across the country are also posted. So, how do Dovidio’s Songpull events compare to the others?

“Actually, mine are the best,” Dovidio said. “Mostly because my songwriting tally is higher than anyone else’s, even the founders of Songpull. I’ve already doubled the amount of songwriters for it.”

Dovidio’s Songpull nights are drawing in a diverse crowd of both professional and amateur musicians, creating an atmosphere of camaraderie rather than competition.

“We get such a huge mix,” Dovidio said. “When the younger, less experienced players come in at first, they are a little intimidated, but then they see that there’s so much support because you are doing something that few people are willing to do — you’re creating something original and performing it in a very raw way in front of cameras. That’s not easy.”

For people who consider themselves musical pros, doing a Songpull can sometimes be even harder.

“Usually the experienced guys are used to having months, even years, to perfect a song,” Dovidio said. “It’s totally different for someone who’s written something in just a few weeks from scratch. It really humbles the seasoned people. They realize it’s not that simple.”

For the performers, viewing their video performances provides an opportunity to grow and perfect not only their sound but their performance style as well.

“It’s a huge educational tool,” Dovidio said. “They can see themselves and say, ‘That’s what I look like when I perform,’ or ‘My songs are starting to sound the same,’ and some end up wishing those videos never existed.”

Perhaps the biggest reward for Songpull performers is a feeling of true accomplishment.

“The biggest thing I get from the songwriters is that they are absolutely thrilled to committing themselves to writing a song by the end of the month,” Dovidio said. “Some of them haven’t written anything in years, some have never written anything, and to finish something — to accomplish something — makes them feel so good about themselves.”


Hear it live
Upcoming Songpulls at The Shaskeen, 909 Elm St. in Manchester, 625-0246, theshaskeen.com:
• Monday, Feb. 2, at 7:30 p.m.
• Monday, March 2, at 7:30 p.m.
• Monday, April 6, at 7:30 p.m.