Music Issue

Nashville Heads West Songwriter Showcase Returns to Casey’s

Artists from Tennessee and the Flathead will play April 15-16 following a songwriting retreat in Whitefish

By Maggie Dresser
Musician Andrew Sweeney outside SunRift Beer Company in Kalispell on April 7, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

While Christie D’Amour was on vacation in Whitefish at River Meadow Ranch two years ago, she started chatting about music with the ranch owner, who mentioned he’d love to host songwriters from Nashville.

D’Amour returned home to Georgia and said the idea kept reemerging in her mind. So she called the ranch owner.

Five months after her first trip to Whitefish, D’Amour returned with roughly 10 friends and songwriters from Nashville for a songwriter retreat and showcase at Casey’s in Whitefish called Nashville Heads West.

“I went out there in May of 2019 and just absolutely fell in love with it,” D’Amour said. “The landscape, the people, the scenery, the absolute silence and the quiet.”

After a successful first retreat, D’Amour scheduled two retreats for 2020, but they were canceled due to the pandemic. But now, it has returned in 2021 with another retreat and two shows scheduled at Casey’s on Thursday, April 15 and Friday, April 16.

With a few songwriters returning from the first retreat, D’Amour has recruited additional talent this year with 11 artists total, including Anthony Smith, who wrote “Cowboys Like Us” for George Strait, Trent Tomlinson and Terri Joe Box, who has written songs for Ashley McBryde and Miranda Lambert.

Among the veterans, there will also be a few up-and-coming songwriters from Nashville along with local Flathead artists Andrew Sweeney and Hannah King.

“It’s a really good group of people that are going to be with us this year,” D’Amour said. “I think the special thing is for some of these young (artists) to get writing sessions with some of these seasoned writers and being able to do this in Whitefish and get people together to watch them create magic.”

Sweeney is looking forward to learning from the top-tier talent.

“I’ve been writing since I was a teenager and I’m working on an album right now,” Sweeney said. “Being able to get together with seasoned songwriters from the top music markets in the world is a great opportunity, and the fact that we’ve got a venue like Casey’s that is so supportive of the music community, it’s such a golden opportunity.”

Sweeney also hopes he can offer insight for the other songwriters, coming from a smaller musical community with more freedom.

“Songwriting down there is more of a science,” Sweeney said. “It’s still an art, but there’s a lot of unwritten rules in Nashville. They are the things that get you more of a commercial product in the end, and coming from a place like this, you have the freedom to write whatever you want.”

At the first retreat, brother-duo Chad and Kyle Wilson wrote more than half of their debut album, Wilson Brothers Band, at the retreat.

“I think it’s great because the trip takes the songwriters out of their normal routines,” D’Amour said. “These songs may never have existed, and it’s a pretty powerful feeling.”

At the retreat, the artists are split into groups and participate in multiple songwriting sessions throughout the week. D’Amour also organized a charity event with Two Bear Therapeutic Riding Center.

“The songwriters will spend some time with the kids and their families and try to bring them joy while we’re out there,” D’Amour said. “This whole thing is about giving back.”

On Thursday, April 15 and Friday, April 16, the musicians will play on The Bear 106.3 at 8 a.m. during the Morning Drive, while the Nashville Heads West Songwriter Showcase at Casey’s starts at 6:30 p.m.

Artists include Dan Smalley, Kristen Kelley, Chad Wilson, Charlie Argo, Anthony Smith, Trent Tomlinson, Terri Jo Box, Blue Foley, Trick Savage, Eric Erdman, Cameron Havens, and Flathead songwriters Andrew Sweeney and Hannah King.

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