Formed by Tim Perry and Jeff Oxford more than 15 years ago, the GRSA is back for monthly meetings at Schuler Books & Music, where budding songwriters test their material for other tunesmiths.
The Grand Rapids Songwriters Alliance meets at 6 p.m. the second Wednesday of every month in the performance nook at Schuler Books & Music, 2660 28th St. SE, Grand Rapids. The next meeting is Feb. 12. Signups begin at 6 p.m. with performances at 6:30 p.m. More details online here.
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Songwriting is a craft that can take place nearly anywhere. For some, it’s work best suited for a cozy living room and a guitar; others prefer a coffee shop and a glowing laptop.
Whatever the setting, songs make their arduous journey from seedling ideas to a force that can evoke the deepest of human emotion.
The Grand Rapids Songwriters Alliance has had as much of a winding road as many songs do. For over 15 years, Tim Perry and Jeff Oxford have sought to nurture the craft of songwriting by curating an ever-evolving community of writers that meets once a month to perform and workshop songs.
“We all have these things that are just busting to get out, and we’re always looking for a way to do that. A lot of times, with songs, all you want to do is to get something down,” Perry said in a phone interview with Local Spins.
“Hopefully, it’s something that communicates an idea so that you feel it, so that it has an effect on you, so that you are forced to respond to it in some way. It may not be a positive thing too, it could be negative. If a song is interruptive and forces you to answer your own mental questions, I think that’s a lot of it. It’s something that has to communicate on a visceral level.”
Perry and Oxford have communicated through songs for a while.
They met years ago at a songwriting group led by Lucy Webster — sessions that, coincidentally, were held at the 28th Street Schuler Books — and struck a friendship. When that group disbanded, the pair felt compelled to begin their own iteration as the Grand Rapids Songwriters Alliance. Beyond helming the alliance, Perry and Oxford are frequent creative collaborators.
“This is what brought us together. We were both roughly the same age, with families, so we got to be good friends real quick,” Perry said. “I wrote a lot of family songs at the start and he was very much into that. We established a relationship and we’ve been great friends ever since.”
‘YOU GET TO PICK THE BRAINS OF EVERYBODY’
The GRSA first hosted its gatherings at Schuler Books on Alpine Avenue NW, where it spent 10 years before the store closed. It then moved to Story Cafe on Leonard Street, where it spent another five years before that venue shuttered. In a full-circle move last fall, the GRSA relocated to Schuler Books, this time at 2660 28th St. SE. Meetings take place every second Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m.
“We’re all at various levels. It’s for anybody who wants to write songs,” Perry said. “You don’t have to have done this before, you just have to be curious about it. It’s beginners right up to established singer-songwriters and people who play out or make a living doing this.”
Attendees have the opportunity to share two songs or a total of 10 minutes of original material. After an initial visit, songwriters can then bring in lyric copies and voluntarily subject their work to peer critiques. Past attendees have included local artists such as Josh Rose, Roger Brown, Ralston Bowles and members of Jukejoint Handmedowns, among others.
“You get to pick the brains of everybody. We have lots of opportunities for people to just come in and try out their new material. We’ll help them figure out what the typical audience reaction will be.”
The group also does song assignments as a way to get writers to try their hand at tackling a specific subject. Beyond its monthly meetings, the GRSA regularly performs at area open mics and annually at the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts in early June.
It also holds one meeting a year at Perry’s home during the summer and a holiday meeting at Oxford’s home in the winter, both of which are as festive as they are performative. The camaraderie is all the same, wherever the group meets.
“It’s a good, warm, friendly and non-threatening place to try out new material and get ideas for how to move forward,” Perry said. “Every once in a while, you need to hear that something doesn’t smell very good, and if you have people who do that in a gentle way — to help guide you and follow through — it helps.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Grand Rapids Songwriters Alliance
Photos by Jamie Geysbeek