The Woodsongs Front Porch Association (WFPA) is an amazingly and elegantly simple creature.
Based in Lexington, Kentucky and the brain child of Michael Johnathon, singer-songwriter, performer, producer, tour organiser, and 36 other roles, it’s spreading its tendrils across the USA and the world.
I’ll not steal any WFPA thunder by block copying and pasting here, but please follow the links and your rewards shall be many and bountiful.
The Cliff Notes, as MJ would say: it’s a cheap-as-chips member association which opens everyone up to a world of musical information, resources and networking, opens its arms, and invites the world of art and artists in to share, share, share.
On Friday 23 and Saturday 24 September 2016, the WFPA is holding its second annual Gathering in Shaker Village, Pleasant Hill, Kentucky – see main picture for all the salient details of the ‘wheres’ and ‘whens’.
Full details at www.songfarmers.org
It’s the ‘how much’ that’s the real news story here. And it’s a good, good news story at a time when good news stories are pretty gosh-darned thin on the ground.
Choose your preference: click on a hyperlink or click on the audio file link below, and listen in as Michael explains WFPA and the Gathering in his signature succinct, clear, resonantly-voiced vocal stylings (even over the tech equivalent of two cans and a 9063 mile piece of string).
*** Audio file will be removed by the end of March 2020 ***
*** Audio file will be removed by the end of March 2020 ***
Text of the interview with Michael Johnathon about Woodsongs Front Porch Association:
Bill Quinn: I’m talking with Michael Johnathon in Kentucky, USA. Michael, welcome.
Michael Johnathon: Bill, it’s nice to talk to you again. Thanks for being interested to give me a holler.
BQ: The Woodsongs Front Porch Association (WFPA) and the gathering that’s coming up in September. Tell us all about it.
MJ: Well, you know we have the Woodsongs broadcast which is a radio and television broadcast, and that is not to be confused with the WFPA. This is a separate membership group. What we’re looking for are the passionate, love-driven front porch-minded musicians and artists and poets and painters.
And the reason is the music industry has really collapsed.
These wonderful artists are out there trying to make a living. New cars are coming out with no CD players in them, new computers are coming out with no CD players in them. It’s getting very difficult for musicians and artists to make a living.
And what we’re all about is: Take a deep breath, accept the fact that you’re not going to make a living with your music, now what do you do with it?
And the WFPA is about helping artists re-think their music.
You know, music does not need to be your livelihood to be a major part of your life. And we call the members of the WFPA ‘songfarmers’. And a songfarmer is simply any artist: you, a poet, a cellist, anything. A songfarmer is anybody who wants to use their art to make their lives, their communities, their families better.
Even though they might not be making an actual living out of it, it can still be an incredibly powerful part of your life. And what was bothering me is that there’s a lot of these music trade associations that I believe are very sincere like the IBMA or the Folk Alliance or the Americana Association. And these are trade groups helping artists in the business of music.
The problem is: there is no music business.
Record labels aren’t signing, and if you do get signed to a label, there’s no stores to put your CD in. And so essentially record labels are signing the biggest customer of their own album. So what do you need a record label for?
Image courtesy of Woodsongs Front Porch Association
BQ: I joined the Songfarmers on Facebook and then I unhooked myself, because I hadn’t taken the time to do the research and had assumed – my most hated word in any language – that it was all about song creation and song collecting, which is not part of what I do. But what you’ve just described, it applies more widely.
MJ: Here’s what I believe. I believe that most everybody is part of the group that should be part of WFPA. Not these trade groups.
And the problem with the trade groups is that I don’t think that they have been completely honest with the artists. They haven’t done it intentionally; it’s just that the business model has changed so much that they’re not really explaining it to the artists.
And here’s a perfect example why. Let’s say you’re going to become part of the Folk Alliance which is a wonderful group that encourages folk music around the world. Well, by the time you’re done playing your membership dues, and then your regional dues, and then your conference dues, and your hotel and your travel, it’s costing you over a thousand dollars US just to attend a conference.
And here’s a fact: most artists don’t make a thousand dollars with their music all year long.
It shouldn’t cost you more to be part of the group than the group helps you earn.
BQ: Two things [about WFPA] leapt off the page at me, one of which we’ve talked about at great length before, which is the act of offering your services for free, taking your expertise and sharing it with others who are up and coming who may just need a bit of guidance.
And the other one which people may think, What’s this tree-hugger going on about? And that’s the currency of love.
And I think those two are very powerful in the context of what you’re talking about.
MJ: Well, I truly believe that love is the greatest transaction of the arts.
Nobody in the history of music ever bought a record because it said ‘RCA Records’. They bought it because they love Elvis; they couldn’t care less what the label was.
Love is the reason artists pick up the guitar or the cello to begin with, love is the reason an audience member is willing to pay all kinds of money to go to a concert – to a Bruce Springsteen concert or The Eagles or Tommy Emmanuel or somebody.
Love is what makes that happen. And what has happened to the music business: marketing and numbers have superseded love, and that’s why the music business is collapsing.
It’s not collapsing because of a change in technology, it’s not collapsing because there’s no music stores, it’s not collapsing because of any other reason except for the fact that love has been removed from the enterprise of art.
And what we’re trying to do is have everybody stop the presses, take a deep breath, let’s all acknowledge that you’re not going to make a real living at this. Now, let’s do good work out of love with music, and you will find more joy in that because you’re not going to pursue something that doesn’t exist.
BQ: A personal epilogue on that: when you do good things, many times good things happen. And I have seen that when people do something purely altruistically, wanting to do good for others, and as a consequence of that, good things happen. It can boost their profile, their income, their dollar coins in the upturned guitar case.
MJ: Well, years ago – and you’re right, and here’s why you’re right.
Years ago, you would get a manager and you’d sign to a label and they’d send your record to a radio station and they’d play it, and people would hear it and go to stores and buy your records. That was the business model.
Well, that doesn’t exist anymore. What does still exist is the need for an artist to get in front of their audience.
Well, you can’t do that with radio, you can’t do it with TV, so what’s left? Good work.
Do good things with your art and music to find your audience. And see, the internet has opened that ability up to artists, but they’re not using it. And my whole revision of music and art is to look at what’s happening in other fields.
You know, Facebook gives their thing away for free, but they’re worth billions of dollars, aren’t they? Youtube lets anybody use it for free, and they’re worth billions of dollars. Twitter lets anybody use it for free, and they’re worth billions of dollars.
Why on earth aren’t artists doing that?
And that’s what we’re trying to do; we’re trying to say money is not as important as love and good work with your art. And if you do that, you will find an audience, and once you find an audience, guess that they’re gonna do? They’re gonna buy your stuff.
BQ: Moving along to the gathering that’s happening on 23 and 24 September, in possibly one of my favourite-named places: Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill. Tell us what somebody could expect if they’re stepping on to that particular front porch.
MJ: We started the WFPA and our first gathering of songfarmers was last year, and it was at the Museum of Appalachia which is at a log cabin village full of, guess what, front porches.
And we had several hundred people come to the very first gathering. Now we realise that place is going to be too small for the second one, so we’ve gone to this other place called Shaker Village. It’s near Lexington, Kentucky. It’s a beautiful, historical plantation of barns and old Shaker homes, 200 year old cabins, and it’s a beautiful place. And this is going to be the second gathering of songfarmers.
And probably about a thousand folks are going to show up for this one. And it’s a neat thing. To become a member of the WFPA costs $25. That’s it. And the membership money goes to sending our school programs into schools, worldwide and for free.
If your listeners go to Woodsongs.com and click on the Classroom page, a tremendous array of art and music projects for classrooms with lesson plans for teachers to use, all set up, all ready to go, absolutely free. Doesn’t cost anybody a penny.
As a thank you to our members when they become of a member of the WFPA, we give them five free tickets to come to the gathering conference at Shaker Village. Free.
BQ: Just let that settle in for a minute. $25 annual membership, and that gives you apart from all the other bits and pieces, it gives you five tickets to a two-day gathering and conference and wow!
MJ: Yeah, and the gathering is full of concerts and workshops, lectures, films. We have a big non-stop stage for kids to perform on in front of audiences. Every WFPA member gets to perform and play at the gathering, and there’s all kinds of music jams. 20, 30 people gathering under a big shade tree and just picking and singing for hours and just having all kinds of fun.
And one of the things that we started, we need something like this in Australia, so listen up. We’ve started hometown songfarmer music clubs. All you need is one person to be a WFPA member, and right now there’s 28 WFPA songfarmer clubs around the United States. Another one is opening in the Virgin Islands, another one is starting in Canada, and we need songfarmers in Australia.
And all it is, once a month or once every couple of weeks or whenever, you invite your friends over for picking and singing and a cold beer on your front porch, your back porch, it could be in a local club or something. There’s no tickets, there’s no money, there’s no nothing. It’s just gathering the community together to perform and pick and sing and play.
In other words, turn the TV and the radio off and do it yourself.
BQ: There is a real strong culture of that in Australia, I’m very happy to say. I have been, gravelly-voiced as I am now. We call them ‘sessions’. But to put some structure around that is, I think, a fantastic thing, just to put it under an umbrella or whatever you want to call it.
MJ: What it does is it brings the community worldwide together.
People like to belong to something. They don’t want to feel like they’re by themselves. And another thing, by being a part of the songfarmer community, we help them. We give them the guidelines. How to do it and what to do. We give you a beautiful logo to put on your posters. And it’s all for free; it doesn’t cost anybody anything to do this.
We have all these songfarmer clubs popping up and what we’re doing is getting communities, neighbourhoods and families to use music to draw them back together.
Years ago, the front porch was the grand pulpit of every hometown and community. And then they invented air-conditioning and television and everybody went inside. And what we’re saying – what I’m saying – is that your living room couch is the greatest stage in the world. Your front porch is the greatest stage in the world. Your family and your friends and your neighbours – that’s the greatest audience in the world.
You don’t have to be Garth Brooks. You don’t have to be Bruce Springsteen. You don’t have to be Bob Dylan. Just be you, and forget the idea of making a living with the music.
Make it part of your life instead, and you will be much, much happier because you know what most artists have in common, Bill?
They have a day job. They have a day job, and I’m like, let’s just accept that for once. Forget going after gold rings that don’t exist. Stop pursuing a music business that is no longer there, stop frustrating yourself going after something that you can’t have. Because you are a wonderful songwriter, you’re a wonderful singer, you’re a wonderful friend and father and uncle and neighbour and buddy and band-mate.
So let’s use that instead.
BQ: Sounds like a mighty fine idea, Michael Johnathon.
We better wrap this up, but I want to say thank you so much. I think that we might have a few potential songfarmers – actually, I know we have a few potential songfarmers out there in the wide brown lands of Australia.
And thanks to the internet, in the world. So I’m looking forward to helping spread that word.
MJ: Well, just to let everybody know they can go to songfarmers.org and get all the information they need to start up a hometown songfarmer club, become a part of the WFPA and we will help them.
BQ: And if you’re going to be within spitting distance of Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky on 23 and 24 September, all the details are at songfarmers.org for how you can get involved with that.
MJ: Bill, we’d love to have them. We would love to have you come out to one of these.
BQ: If you’re familiar with Harry Potter, I’m going to be looking for a chimney to step into so I can transport myself there around about the 23rd, magically over to Kentucky.
MJ: We would love to have you anyway.
BQ: Michael, it’s been an absolute delight. Thank you so much.
MJ: Bill, thank you too.
The Woodsongs Front Porch Association on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WoodSongsFrontPorchAssociation/
On a rough count from the web page, there are now 57 hometown songfarmer groups as of 25 February 2020. The 2019 gathering was held on 18 and 19 October 2019 at Berea Arena Theatre, Berea, Kentucky.