Music is a big business. With global audiences and expensive production budgets to cover, the music industry runs on big venues, big contracts, big names and big vendors.
But music is also little. Personal. Communicative. Experimental. Collaborative. And this is the paradox: Without the little things that sustain the intimate exploration of music as a basic, communal, human need, the big wheels of the 21st century music business grind grudgingly to a halt.
That’s why record company executives might want to draw a big red circle around Providenciales’ next Sundowner Music Festival. Because if the second edition is nearly as well-received as the first, this new island event might just be the start of music’s next big little thing.
“You know, it’s Island Time,” said Wyatt Easterling, the Nashville-based multi-platinum songwriter, producer and performer who helped launch the first Sundowner in the winter of 2015. “For us in the States, it’s so fast paced. When I get down (to Turks and Caicos), I just kinda breathe a sigh of relief. Nobody is in a rush, so you can kinda kick back and enjoy yourself. As a working musician, it’s doubly nice to be able to sit back and just go with the flow.”
Of course, how Easterling wound up on Provo last November is a little story based on a big coincidence. It begins with local attorney Gordon Kerr, and two seats on an airliner.
“Essentially how this all came about was that I was flying from Calgary to Dallas and sitting on the plane and this guy came in and sat down next to me,” Kerr said. “I’m not usually one who talks to people on planes, but we sort of struck up a conversation and as we got into it, I discovered that he was this guy Wyatt Easterling.
“I enjoy music, and I play a bit. As we were talking about it, he introduced me to a concept which I didn’t know existed. It’s called ‘home concert.’ Quite a lot of artists are doing these small, intimate concerts with maybe 50 or 100 people at most, between gigs or (if they’re) trying out new work. So it’s nice for them, and… for the people who are attending, you actually get to talk to the artist. From that we (agreed that) Turks and Caicos might be a good place to try one.”
Their first invitation-only Provo house concert in April was such a hit that the idea of a festival emerged. “But not a festival where you simply bring in four bands and ask them to play one night and then everybody goes home after the concert,” Kerr said. “The idea was more to bring in songwriters and producers as well as artists, to create small, intimate venues so the home concert thing is still there.”
The best part? By bringing industry pros to Provo, Kerr and Easterling would be creating opportunities for local musicians that would otherwise be impossible. Easterling booked U.S. act Naked Blue, and with the professional contingent in the mix with visitors and locals, the three-day festival at The Somerset Resort on Grace Bay featured performances, songwriting workshops, bull sessions and an acoustic Jam Cruise.
The event’s ‘big’ concert, which also featured David Bowen, ended with everyone playing together. Both described the Jam Cruise as a highlight, but the songwriting workshop particularly stuck with Easterling.
“I enjoyed that a lot. It is certainly a part of the ongoing growth of this event: More outreach and involving students or anyone who wants to learn how to write a song.”
Their next moves will be to broaden the scope, add more genres, and promote the 2016 festival as musical tourism. They want to do more to involve local schools and add venues that would allow for larger concerts. But even if the names of the visiting artists get bigger, each musician will still be expected to focus on the little things, like one-to-one teaching and informal socializing. Whatever shape the second Sundowner Festival takes, Kerr and Easterling have high hopes for the concept. After all, the first time out was – as Easterling put it – “a great maiden voyage.”
Photographs: Lesley Stevenson