Stories in Rhyme Documentary

By John Mullen

December 3, 2019 – Orange Beach, AL – (OBA®) – One little scene from an incredible documentary went a long way toward capturing the spirit that fostered the beginnings of the iconic Flora-Bama and its equally iconic Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival.

“You go into some joints and most owners tell you what to play,” musician Jimmy Louis says early on in the 90-minute film. “When I hooked up with Joe he said I’ll pour the whiskey and you play the music. That’s instant friends there.”

Joe Gilchrist of the famous Flora-Bama in Orange Beach, Alabama.Joe Gilchrist is the humble man and driving spirit behind both the Bama and songwriters’ festival. The documentary Stories in Rhyme the Songwriters of the Flora-Bama Lounge was screened twice during this year’s festival with many of the songwriters featured on the screen sitting in the audience seeing it for the first time.

Like the incredibly talented husband and wife team Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee who perform and record as Sugarcane Jane.

“It was a stroll down memory lane,” Savana said. “It was great to be able to publicly thank Joe Gilchrist, Pat McClellan, and everyone else who has had their hand in keeping the music in the forefront at the Bama and along the Gulf Coast. Joe Gilchrist has made it his life’s mission to keep music alive and for that, we are very thankful.”

Anthony and Savana were filmed at their Admiral Bean studio down a dirt road at their home in Loxley. The duo splits time between the house and three kids and the studio.

“The Admiral Bean Studio scene was a typical day for us where I might walk into the studio and Anthony is writing a song and he comes in the house and says ‘hit the space bar and lay down your vocals,” Savana said. “Then the next thing you know, I’m putting down vocals and it’s a done deal. We may live out in the country but it’s pretty fast-paced when you have three small children.”

Highlights of the film were the legendary guitar pull sessions captured over the years from very early on Sonny Throckmorton’s bus, through the years at the River House all the way through the 2018 festival.

“I think it does a great job of conveying the story of the heart of the festival,” Director Andy Haynes said. “The Flora-Bama is the birthplace of and headquarters for the festival, but it has become so much bigger. The festival has an economic impact on the area and the Frank Brown Foundation for Music which produces the festival does so much more.”

For Savana, a highlight of the film was seeing some extremely famous songwriters who formed the backbone of the festival’s early decades and their old video clips and interviews. Among those who have gone on are Mickey Newbury, Hank Cochran, Larry Jon Wilson, Freddy Powers, Larry Carson, Larry Butler and Rusty McHugh, among others.

“It also was good to see the ones we’ve lost – Larry Jon Wilson, Mickey Newbury, Larry Butler – those guys were all such venerable personalities and artists,” Savana said.  “And I think I speak for everyone when I say we felt blessed to have known them and are grateful for the music they left us. Because like this film, the music lives forever. And that’s something we can all enjoy for the rest of our lives.”

Special praise was reserved for Director Lynn Rabren who directed a similar documentary in the 1990s and used footage from that film in the new one as well. Rabren said he will take the film to festivals for showings in 2020 and then follow up with distribution through TV and online streaming.

“The film does a great job of portraying the genesis of the festival and the role the Flora-Bama has played and what it has meant to so many people; especially the songwriters,” Haynes said. “Lynn did an incredible job of restoring and piecing together the (had to be) thousands of hours of archives and making it all tell the story.”

Haynes has been connected to the festival for the past 20 years, 16 as a volunteer and the last four as director.

Several of the interviews captured the essence of the early years of the Flora-Bama and what the Flora-Bama and the songwriters festival mean to so many people.

“Joe has always since the Flora-Bama was 20 feet by 20 feet literally a brick building downstairs on the line Joe had music,” Songwriter and regular Bama performer Gove Scrivenor said. “It was Jay Hawkins, Ken Lambert. I came down here at the behest of Larry Jon Wilson.”

Ken Lambert was the first guy to grab up a guitar at Joe’s urging and pick songs for customers.

“When everybody used to come by, get a six-pack of beer to go down the road I bought ‘em a free drink and sit them in the back,” Gilchrist said. “Ken Lambert would get up and start playing. Before long I had 10 people and 20 people and 40 people and 60 people and within a fairly short period of time, we had a good cross-section listening to great music.”

“It was just a bunch of put-together tables,” Lambert said. “There was no air conditioning. It was just a real beach honky tonk.”

Joe began inviting songwriters and the festival’s namesake, night watchman Frank Brown in on Sunday afternoons just to gather play songs.

“It just got bigger and bigger,” Gilchrist said. “It became a way to bring all these musical characters together and have fun. And that’s what we did.”

Out of it grew the festival that recently completed 35 years on Nov. 18. In between all those festivals, the Bama vibe is kept going through busy summer season crowds and iconic parties like the Mullet Toss in April, the Polar Bear Dip every Jan. 1, blowouts on the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends to a huge potluck dinner every Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

“It has been magic for me,” Gilchrist said. “Every piece has a major part in the puzzle. Every employee, every musician, every customer. All the people in the area come together to make the Flora-Bama the cast of characters that it is.

“There’s no simple way to say it other than it’s a lot of people sharing music, good vibes and good times. I think that’s one of our jobs in life, to enjoy it.”
Shabby Road with Signatures