It's Sunday afternoon at Kelly's Irish Pub & Grill on Fourth Street in Coeur d'Alene. Every seat is filled with families, young couples, middle-aged men and women, seniors. Tables and chairs have been rearranged to make room for mic stands and keyboards, music stands and tall stools. Musicians file in, guitars in hand. It's Songwriter Sunday at Kelly's.
Songwriter Sunday is the brainchild of Aaron, Andy and James Birdsall - otherwise known as Flying Mammals. Along with Meg Sullivan, the owner of Kelly's, they wanted to provide a venue for local artists to perform original music. Flying Mammals host this weekly showcase Sundays from 4 to 7 p.m. Anyone is welcome to perform, as long as they play original music - no covers on Songwriter Sunday. (Covers, for the uninitiated, are songs made popular by other artists.)
"I love to support local artists," Sullivan said. She met the Birdsall brothers through the Powell Brothers, a Sandpoint group that performs at Kelly's on Tuesdays from 6-9 p.m. Flying Mammals fill in on the second Tuesday of each month, giving the Powells a break to promote their new movie, "The Hollow Arm," a documentary featuring the fascinating instrument called a harp guitar.
Flying Mammals are nationally touring artists. They also have a studio in Coeur d'Alene where Aaron utilizes his background in sound design to produce records for fellow artists.
They've produced more than 50 albums, as well as soundtracks for films and a variety of other projects.
A couple of summers ago, they created the Coeur d'Alene Music Festival, where more than 40 musicians performed original music for four days, 12 hours a day. They also built the sound system and stage at the Hogfish, bringing in musicians who played original music. "The place was packed every weekend," James said. The Hogfish has since changed to a DJ format.
The brothers recognize that while there are musicians performing locally, most venues insist that they play covers instead of their own music. This is a situation that is rare in other parts of the country.
"Everyone goes out to hear new music in other parts of the country," says Aaron. "We're all to blame for the lack of original music in town. We need to support the product and prove to the venues that there is an audience for it. It's a conditioning process. If you give people a reason to come out and a good product, people will come out."
"(With Songwriter Sunday), we are hoping to cultivate the same creative atmosphere that we did back in the open jam days of the Hogfish, but even more focused on songwriters," their Facebook page says. "This will be a place to showcase your new songs to peers and music lovers alike. You will also be able to find songwriting partners and collaborators."
Artists who want to perform at Songwriter Sunday can sign up online a week in advance. The brothers review the entries and select a featured artist who will perform for a 1/2 hour; the rest play 2-3 songs each. Flying Mammals also play, choosing songs that will work in this initmate acoustic setting. They usually perform in concert halls, and their shows include aerial acrobats, etc., so they appreciate the chance to play in a small venue where the audience sits and listens quietly.
Songs performed at Songwriter Sunday must feature lyrics suitable for all ages. Besides being few places in town where original music is welcome, there are also no music venues where all ages are welcome. "It's not surprising kids get in trouble," James said. "We haven't given them a reason to do anything else."
"There's an amazing amount of talent in this area," he continued. "There are many acts that are signed to major labels and tour nationally, but live here." There's a perception nationally that all music coming out of the Inland Northwest is metal or punk, Andy said. They're hoping to change that.
They believe that Songwriter Sunday is the first step toward creating an awareness and appreciation for original music in our area. "Our goal is to have an outlet for songwriters and a place where people can showcase new songs in front of their peers, as well as find collaborators," Aaron said. "That's how you build a music scene - get people together."
"This is the dawn of Coeur d'Alene's Seattle movement," Andy said.
"The story is these guys," Sullivan said. "Giving back to the community and helping local artists bring their original music. It's so nice to have real music."
For more information about Flying Mammals, check out their website, www.flyingmammals.com. You can also find their music on iTunes and YouTube. And if you're interested in performing your original music at Songwriter Sunday, visit their Facebook page and sign up on the event page.