Unplugged: Q&A with Greg Friia of Songwriters Singing for Coffee

Greg Friia | Songwriters Singing For Coffee From watching big acts in stadiums to catching indie songwriters in coffee shops, nothing beats the experience of listening to live music.

Here at A-T we love watching live performances, that’s why we’re proud to support Songwriters Singing for Coffee, an evening of live music held in the heart of Nashville each month. We recently had the opportunity to speak with SSFC founder Greg Friia about the inspiration behind the show and his hopes for taking it on the road.

Audio-Technica: What inspired you to start Songwriters Singing for Coffee?

Greg Friia: As a professional songwriter for fifteen years and an avid coffee drinker for more years than I care to mention, I have always been intrigued with the thought of combining the two. I’ve never been a big fan of smoke-filled bars and have always enjoyed participating and listening to songwriter events. There is an intimacy factor associated with the “unplugged” concept of sharing songs with small audiences. Prior to my moving to Nashville from my hometown in Maryland, I visited Music City and attended a show at the famed Bluebird Café. It was there that I realized the allure of the songwriter. Hearing hit songs from the source was like handing candy to a child. I knew it was something special and I wanted desperately to start something of my own but I wanted to find a way to merge the music with my passion for coffee. Writing with and befriending many top songwriters, I knew I would have the support and the ability to draw an audience. So I then came up with the name and moniker to help in branding the show. And just like that, “Songwriters Singing For Coffee” – “Where Lyrics And Lattes Collide” was born.

A-T: What a great backstory! Tell us about the very first SSFC show.

Friia: It was in Nashville back in April 2014 and we had already secured a deal with Starbucks locally and we chose their Green Hills location since it had more than ample space. The launch show featured hit songwriter and actor Scott Reeves, who’s mostly known for his roles on soap operas like General Hospital, The Young & The Restless and Days Of Our Lives but also penned the #1 song Made In America for Toby Keith. Billy Yates captivated the audience with hits like Choices and I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair, originally made famous by the legendary George Jones. Hit writer and CCMA award winner Pete Sallis made sure the audience remembered him, great songs coupled with his ability to make people laugh has made him a staple on the show. Rounding out the lineup that night was yours truly. I was honored to be among such distinguished writers and the crowd was left with a night they would not soon forget. We were all honored to have had a full house that night.

DanieDanielle Peck | Songwriters Singing For Coffee lle Peck

A-T: Sounds like it was a great evening. How has Songwriters Singing for Coffee grown since the first show in 2014?

Friia: Well with two years under our belt we feel that the show is pretty solid now. The format is pretty much the same featuring four songwriters for a two-hour show. We have been experimenting recently by breaking up the two-hour show by having two sets and having a featured artist headline the last set. Just recently we did exactly that by featuring newcomer Lainey Wilson. She brought along a percussionist and performed new songs off of her debut CD Tougher. It was a good opportunity for her as well as a good way for us to have an artist spotlight for a change. We have also done several outdoor events. We partnered with the Fifth Third Center in downtown Nashville along with the Downtown Partnership and had two amazing events featuring the show at their monthly Downtown Nashville Art Crawl. We are currently in negotiations putting together the schedule for 2017. We have also been fortunate to have the generosity of our sponsors and have seen those relationships grow along with the show.

A-T: What made you choose a Starbucks as your venue?

Friia: Our decision was really based on three factors. First, I consider myself a Starbucks junkie. I have been consuming their coffee for years and treat a few of their locations as a second office as a lot of folks do. Second, due to the frequency of visits, I befriended the store manager along with the district manager so it was easy to begin a conversation about my goals. And lets face it; Starbucks are everywhere so it was a no brainer for us. Finally, I saw a great cross marketing opportunity for them. They have always been supportive of music by not only selling CDs in the past but also supporting independent artists with the “Hear Music” program. Locally they are always looking for opportunities to be more community based not to mention ways to partner up with Nashville’s ripe music community. This was a perfect fit.

A-T: Nashville has earned the nickname “Music City,” what do you think makes it such a popular place for musicians?

Friia: The thing that makes Nashville such a special place is that there are always opportunities to get work but also more importantly, to perfect your craft. So many organizations are here to help newcomers get the feel of the landscape. But also you will find that just about everyone from major artists to the top tier songwriters, always seems to have open arms and welcoming new talent. They become friends and mentors to those that need guidance. I see it happen all the time. Then once they get their feet on the ground, they pass along the same love to the next up and comer.

Songwriters Singing For Coffee

A-T: Do you have a favorite Songwriters Singing for Coffee performance?

Friia: There are two actually that come to mind. The first was when we put together one of our outdoor shows downtown. We put together a full outdoor stage and featured the likes of former Mercury Records artist Julie Roberts along with Catch This Music’s rising star Ella Mae Bowen. They captivated the 200 plus crowd that showed up. Definitely was a night to remember.

The other show that tops the list for me personally was when we had Danielle Peck, Jimmy Nichols, Pete Sallis and Nashville’s Songwriters Hall Of Fame member Rory Bourke. Rory has written some of the biggest songs of all time, from having cuts with Elvis Presley and Anne Murray to #1 songs for George Strait and Charlie Rich. Rory penned Charlie Rich’s The Most Beautiful Girl. I have been a fan of Rory’s for quite a long time. I even have a few of his ‘45s that I bought when I was young so I would have to say, that made for the most memorable show to date.

Jimmy Nichols, Rory Bourke, Pete Sallis, Greg Friia, James Hedden and Danielle PeckJimmy Nichols, Rory Bourke, Pete Sallis, Greg Friia, James Hedden and Danielle Peck

A-T: What challenges do you encounter while putting on a concert inside a Starbucks?

Friia: The only challenge really is space. We have had record crowds with standing room only many times. One location that we frequent is the Green Hills location in Nashville. It has a large space in the back so that has proven to be the best location in town. We have been scouting other locations in other cities to find the most suitable spots.

A-T: How can up and coming Nashville musicians get involved with SSFC?

Friia: The show really began to feature hit songwriters much like the Bluebird Café. Hit songs are the draw and that’s how we have been able to bring in an audience. Of course there are exceptions but we don’t have a built in audience quite yet like the Bluebird, so we rely on writers with long resumes and hits under their belt. We are however always looking for new talent but they would have to meet a couple requirements. First, and of course this goes without saying, the level of talent has to be high and they have to be able to bring in a crowd.

All requests can be sent to songsingcoffee@gmail.com along with a link to their website.

A-T: How can music lovers get the latest information about upcoming SSFC shows?

Friia: They can visit our website for up to date information along with all of the usual social media sites. We’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

A-T: What’s next for SSFC? Do you have any plans to take the show on the road?

Friia: Thanks to Audio-Technica along with our other sponsors, we are currently putting together our schedule for 2017 and are working on putting the show on the road. Our goal is to put together a 20-25 city tour at some point in the near future. It would be a lot of work but also a lot of fun for the artists, as they would have the opportunity to share their music with music lovers around the country. It would set up great cross marketing opportunities for Starbucks as well as all of our music sponsors including A-T, Breedlove Guitars, BMI and M Music Mag. We are looking forward to connecting with music communities around the country and continuing to grow the show and brand.

We would like to thank Greg Friia for taking the time to sit down with us to discuss Songwriters Singing for Coffee. Check out upcoming SSFC shows by checking out their schedule.

Photos courtesy of Greg Friia

Audio-Technica

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