By Chris Warner
“The songwriter is the most forgotten person in the music business. They are also the most indispensable. Called the poets, wordsmiths, and cave painters of our time, this is the celebration of the Songwriters, the people who write the songs that make the whole world sing.”
–Chris Warner, on the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival, 2018
The muse-like Joe Gilchrist is an extremely successful entrepreneur. A former high school chemistry teacher, experienced beverage manager, and self-proclaimed American songwriting and music aficionado, in 1978, at the age of 36 he took over his boyhood friends’ family’s tiny package liquor store and lounge on the scenic Alabama-Florida State Line. The diminutive watering hole started by the Tampary Family in 1964, known simply as the “Flora-Bama Lounge & Package Store,” over the next five and a half decades, amazingly, matured into the legendary, Last Great American Honky Tonk Roadhouse.
The revered faded memory factory is on every true fun seeker’s bucket list, as the world-famous Gulf coast destination haunt features live, distinctly American music—every day of the week; a certain anomaly in today’s stale, pre-packaged, downloadable music world. The music, laughter, and the fun never stop at the Flora-Bama—it’s alive a surprising 365 days a year—even on Christmas and Thanksgiving; and that’s how the noted respite on the Line’s innovative patriarch appreciates it, as no matter the occasion or season, there seems to always be ample time on Perdido Key for a party.
“What’s time to a pig?” Gilchrist often jokes.
Entertaining one happy customer at a time, Gilchrist built this enviable business model of good times, frolic, and fun on this rare, live musical entertainment commodity; and therefore, he understands well the pitfalls and difficulties associated with making a steady living writing and playing music. Gilchrist early in his entrepreneurial career was fortunate to meet Hall of Fame songwriter Mickey Newbury, and through him was introduced to some of the world’s finest singer-songwriters—all of whom Joe brought to Perdido Key and the Flora-Bama. In doing so, Gilchrist became a huge singer-songwriting fan. Noted Texas singer-songwriter Kim Carson called Joe Gilchrist “the Patron Saint of songwriters.”
In addition to hiring thousands of singer-songwriters through the years, in 1984, Joe started the Frank Brown International Songwriter’s Festival, which occurs every November in sunny Perdido Key, Florida, honoring singer-songwriters—known and unknown, from all over the world. According to Joe, the modern songwriter is quite possibly the most forgotten person in the music business. “They write the songs that make the whole world sing, but receive fewer royalties than ever due to downloading and pirating.”
Music lovers and aficionados will find great entertainment at Frank Brown. Ground Zero for the festival’s operations is the world-famous Flora-Bama Lounge & Package Store. The Flora-Bama complex offers five live stages of music daily. During the festival, these stages host songwriters from around the world and the same can be said for other participating island food and beverage operations that showcase the many visiting craft masters. Hundreds of songwriters are heralded during the hallowed ten-day November event.
The month of November is usually mild, weather-wise on the Key. Many visitors are often surprised how warm it is, comparatively speaking. “Shorts and sweater weather is the norm at this lovely ‘off-time’ of year.” Flip-flops are encouraged—except when tip-toeing on the pearly white sand!
The Man: Frank Brown
This November marks the 34th year of the FBISF, the world’s largest songwriting festival of its kind, an unrivaled, annual eleven-day celebration of an entire creative class of people—the real difference makers…the people who write the songs that make the whole world sing. The festival’s namesake comes from the Flora-Bama’s famous night watchman of 28 years, Mr. Frank Brown, a revered friend of the songwriters and musicians who knew him. A former Golden Gloves boxer from Pensacola, Mr. Frank lived to be 95 years old, retiring from his duties at the Flora-Bama only four years prior, at the age of 91. His memory and music-loving legacy are forever part of the festival that bears his familiar name.
Plan Your Trip now to the Frank Brown International Songwriter’s Festival and Support the Songwriters, November 2019 – go to fbisf.com for more details!
A Louisiana native and resident of Perdido Key, Florida, Chris Warner is the author of over twenty books, including “Bushwhacked at the Flora-Bama,” “Saved at the Alabama-Florida Line,” “They Met at the Alabama-Florida Line,” “If the Flora-Bama Walls Could Talk,” Food N’ Fun at the Flora-Bama” and “A Tailgater’s Guide to SEC Football,” among others. He is writing a third novel set at the Iconic Pumphouse on the Line, “Trouble at the Alabama-Florida Line,” due out in 2019.