Contributor/JEREMY SCOTT Musician Bryan Hembree (center) and the whole House of Songs crew dances at Whitney Mountain Lodge on Feb. 10, 2017.
House of Songs returns for BITE NW Arkansas
Bryan and Bernice Hembree, along with Austin, Texas, native Suzanna Choffel, will bring the House of Songs sound back to the Ozarks when they take the stage June
23 at BITE NW Arkansas. This time, instead of participating in the international organization just as singers/songwriters Smokey and the Mirror, the duo is partnering with the organization to bring in acts for the food festival.
“It’s a different experience, which is so exciting,” Bernice Hembree says.
The House of Songs Ozarks is the second incarnation of founder Troy Campbell’s Austin-based House of Songs, designed to bring international artists to town to meet and collaborate with local artists. While the primary focus of the program is songwriting, Campbell says he wants “to get people to work and get new audiences but to also see the world a bit differently.”
The organization, which was founded in 2009, has done different variations of the program throughout the world, including the Arctic Circle and parts of Africa, but this would be the first time the House of Songs would set up a year-round program outside of Austin, Campbell says.
A representative of the Walton Family Foundation contacted Campbell about possibly bringing the House of Songs program to the Ozarks, an area with a rich, musical history already familiar to the Kentucky native.
“I already knew about a lot of the music from the Ozarks because I am a massive record nerd,” Campbell says. “So when someone mentioned this area of the country and if I was interested in the music there, the House of Songs made sense to me.”
With a $270,000 grant from the Northwest Arkansas Council to help cover some of the costs, Campbell brought in 18 artists from different parts of the world to live and work together for a week in February on top of Mount Sequoyah in Fayetteville. Over the course of their collaboration, they traveled around Northwest Arkansas to places like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Beaver Lake Dam and the White River — and produced 11 songs and several videos.
The experience was incredible, Bryan Hembree says.
Contributor/JEREMY SCOTT Canadian singer Kaia Katar (center) performs a song for the crew of the House of Songs Ozarks while Rebecka Digervall (left) and Tom Levin (right) listen at Whitney Mountain Lodge on Feb. 10, 2017.
“To create an environment where, for a week, you get together with other creatives and really just focus on that collab and having space to write, that is at the core of House of Songs,” he says.
The week was supposed to be just a one-off event with hopes it would turn into something more one day, but after the group played a few shows and Campbell saw the impact the program was making over the course of just one week, his push for something more permanent intensified.
“People talked about the House of Songs Ozarks like it was already up and running,” Campbell says. “That’s when I came back to the foundation and said, ‘I would like a longer attempt at this, something that is not just an event but a year-long program like the one in Austin.’ I just saw everything I needed to see at this point.”
Contributor/JEREMY SCOTT Musicians John Elliott (left), Bayard Blain (left-center), Bernice Hembree (center), Raven Kanatakta (right-center) and Gareth Averil (right) practice their songs at Wesley Hall on Mount Sequoyah in Fayetteville on Feb. 9, 2017.
Since then, Campbell and the Hembrees have been reaching out to local artists to see if they will participate in the year-long program and checking to see what local events they can plan the program around, with sights set on establishing a “House” in the Ozarks sometime in the fall or winter. The only thing Campbell is still looking for is funding.
Campbell says a typical year for the program would be to invite a few out-of-town artists each month to stay for a week and collaborate on songs and perform with regional artists. He also would want to put together larger groups, like the one in February, several times a year.
Contributor/JEREMY SCOTT Canadian musician Raven Kanatakta works on a song at Whitney Mountain Lodge on Feb. 10, 2017.
“We want people to see that there is this thriving, amazing artist community in Northwest Arkansas,” Bryan Hembree says.
Campbell’s vision for the region mirrors what his Austin-based House of Songs has been doing. The artists he invites to his home play locally in the Austin area, frequenting The Townsend Austin and Cactus Cafe, while also performing in festivals including South by Southwest. The House of Songs functions as a place where artists can meet, collaborate and refine their songwriting chops. Campbell coordinates with local artists to visit his home, which houses the international musicians.
All of the songs produced by the House of Songs can be found on its website, along with videos of the group’s performances.