Right before 2020 created a giant hole in our lives, singer-songwriter Taylor James Donskey brought together 7 musicians onstage at the Aster Cafe to discuss songwriting, stories, and perform a song. Taylor had spent time in Nashville recording albums and witnessed the classic ‘in-the-round’ format at Bluebird, Dusty Road, and Belcourt Taps.
“I knew stuff happened like this before, but didn’t know it happened to this scale until seeing it in Nashville. It was such a stable in the community. Everyone’s there because they know they might run into something special. It’s almost a guarantee that you’re going to experience a human experience.
The intent was to bring that community-based concept to the Twin Cities, providing another layer of artist development and promotion for local artists. Coming out of the pandemic, it found a new home in August of 2021 at the 331 Club. That has now evolved into 4 nights a month, with the White Squirrel in St. Paul counterpart to the Minneapolis rounds.
For those that haven’t experienced a songwriter round, the evening features 4 artists on stage at the same time. The host introduces and asks questions, sparking stories and then a song from each songwriter. Taking turns you get to hear 4 different songwriters and their stories, all in one evening.
“The songwriter rounds format is more of a conversation between artists and community to create a staged discussion that is punctuated by beautiful songs and people’s experiences.”
There are some exceptional benefits of this format for both the artists and the audience. As opposed to risking $20 to see 3 bands where you’re not sure if you’re going to enjoy ALL of them, the chances of finding something you’ll connect to is much higher with this. Oh, and these shows are FREE. You’re also not waiting until 11pm to see the headliner.
For the artists, the immediate benefit is connection with other musicians. You’re on stage with 3 other songwriters, feeling that community and support around you. This lowers the focus if you’re shy with your music, or still working on a song that’s relatively new.
There are other gains for both sides as you could witness off-the-cuff collaborations between people. Some artists have been offered gigs right after stepping off stage. There’s also been new collaborations, like when Rachel Bearinger met Garret Nasset back in 2019 playing the rounds. That led to her playing in his band.
“Every time I’ve gotten to play the rounds has been uniquely special and positive. The opportunity to show off new songs in an environment where people are actually listening is so fulfilling. I’ve made invaluable connections with fantastic songwriters who I have otherwise been too intimated to say hello to,” Rachel shares.
Finally, Taylor is sure that social media platforms are being patronized in these settings. There is a cell phone round where he encourages the audience to pull out their phone. Each artist then shares their handles and where people can follow them. This encourages the audience to find them on Soundcloud, Instagram, and connect to their music.
The heart and big message of this idea is equity. This word holds actionable meaning as Taylor shares a form with the artist, asking people to give up their spot for someone else if someone needs to attend a specific event due to a scheduling conflict. If the event is too homogeneous, it could be an opportunity to have someone to step back. The guarantee being if you give up your spot for someone, you’ll be on the next one.
He also encourages a songwriter that has been accepted to bring in another person and tell someone else. If they give up their spot for someone they know, they’ll get free drink tickets to the event. This creates a vehicle for actionable equity.
This importance for equity translates to every picture from the event is all 4 people on stage, no solo shots, no individualization or centering on a certain artist. Everyone gets paid the same amount.
“The idea is that it’s going to be a community owned project in time. That’s the big hope and that’s actually my biggest anxiety about it. Will people see it for what it is and not see that it’s my thing. It’s our thing.”
You can experience one of these unique formats and opportunities to discover new music four nights a week. Here’s a look at their lineup through August. (lineups subject to change)
August 4th at White Squirrel features RJ Vocal, Eli Gardiner, Cassandra Cole, and Holy Hannah.
August 11th at 331 features Carriage House, Hana Fleur, and Poison Ivy
August 21st at White Squirrel features Mary Cutrufello, Maya Elena, Lori Lofstrom, and Lisa Deguiseppi
August 25th at 331 features Pat Keen, Arlo Cristofaro, Dexter Wolfe, and Hemma
First Thursdays (8pm) and 3rd Sundays (7pm) at the White Squirrel, second and fourth Thursdays (9:30pm) at 331 Club. Follow Twin Cities Songwriter Rounds for lineups and upcoming events, all free.