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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Inland Northwest SongFest to feature local songsmiths

Thom Shepherd will headline the Bing Crosby Theater leg of the Inland Northwest SongFest event on Saturday.  (Courtesy)

It’s not easy being a fledgling singer-songwriter. Bar gigs typically require an encyclopedic knowledge of classic tunes. Original songs are about as welcome as last call at local watering holes.

That’s how it felt when Joey Anderson formed a songwriters club, which met at the Black Diamond over the last few years.

“We would get together there and it was frustrating,” Anderson said. “In the middle of a set, we would play one of our songs and someone would yell out something like (Lynyrd Skynyrd’s) ‘Freebird.’

I don’t get it. People will pay $200 to see their favorite recording artist but they won’t pay $20 to see a local musician play his songs.”

Anderson, 43, who retired from Fairchild Air Force Base as a Senior Master Sergeant in 2023, is making a difference for local singer-songwriters. Anderson, who lives on the South Hill, has assembled the inaugural Inland Northwest SongFest in conjunction with the Friends of the Bing. The event, which is slated for Saturday at the Dry Fly Distilling Bar, the Steam Plant Restaurant and the Bing Crosby Theater, is about showcasing and supporting regional talent; 32 singer-songwriters will showcase their material.

“There are so many gifted singer-songwriters in our area,” Anderson said. “I could see that from the last few years at the Black Diamond. We had Brandon Jackson, who is from Spokane, out with us and now he’s been on ‘American Idol.’ (Coeur d’ Alene’s) Colby Acuff played with us and now he’s opening for Luke Combs.”

Thom Shepherd, who will headline the Bing while performing in the round with Preston James and Aaron Crawford, agrees. The CMA of Texas Songwriter of the Year Award-winner, who owns a home in Sandpoint, is bullish on local talent.

“I lived in Nashville for 18 years and the songwriting bar is really high there obviously,” Shepherd said from his San Antonio home. “But I’ve been so impressed with what I’ve seen in Spokane. I was just blown away with what I’ve seen and heard.

“It’s time to help the songwriters there get to the next level.”

Anderson is helping cultivate the local talent. There will be some songwriting clinics at the songwriting festival.

“That will be beneficial for the young songwriters,” Anderson said.

The Florida native, who will perform at the Bing Crosby Theater, hopes the songwriting festival becomes an annual event.

“There’s no downside to it,” Anderson said. “This event is for the local songwriters and our entire community.”

And music fans can have their cake and eat it too, as Shepherd will play such hits as “Riding With Private Malone,” “Redneck Yacht Club” and “My Texas.”

“In my opinion there can’t be too many songwriting festivals,” Shepherd said. “If you’ve never been out to one of these festivals, check it out, since you’ll get the stories behind the songs and you’ll see what singer-songwriters are in your area.”