Backstage: Chrystal Hartigan's Songwriters Showcase Thrives

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman offers his insights, opinions, and observations about the local scene. This week: Local music champ Chrystal Hartigan embraces South Florida... again! 

It's fair to say that no one's championed the South Florida music scene with more enthusiasm than Chrystal Hartigan. For the past 20 years, she has promoted songwriters and the scene as a whole through a variety of venues, including concerts, festivals, songwriters-in-the-schools programs, and music award shows.

She's currently devoting her energies to "Chrystal Hartigan Presents... Songwriters Showcase," a celebration of South Florida talent presented on the second Monday of every month at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The event offers budding artists an opportunity to perform their original music solo in a live venue, and with admission capped at $10, these events are not only a bargain but also an excellent opportunity to catch the best South Florida has to offer.

Hartigan has produced these showcases in one form or another for the better part of the past 15 years, making her an unabashed booster of the local music scene. Her efforts began in earnest in 1996, after a chance meeting with multiplatinum songwriter/producer Desmond Child at a songwriting seminar hosted by Criteria Recording Studio. "I asked his advice on what it would take to initiate a songwriter showcase in downtown Hollywood, being that most of my friends were musicians," she recalls. "He told me that he and some other music industry reps were going to be starting something similar on Miami Beach, and because he was impressed with my résumé and ambitions, he invited me to be its cofounder." 
Child's project was dubbed "Songwriters in the Round," and Hartigan signed on to oversee it and remained at the helm until its demise in 2001. Once it had run its course on Miami Beach, she kept the concept and relocated to Hollywood in 2002. She stayed with it until 2005, when illness forced her to put her efforts on hold. It took her three years, but once recovered, she opted to start over. "I really missed being involved in the music, and when my health returned, I felt I could give it a try again," Hartigan says. "I approached a dinner/comedy club called Laffing Matterz in downtown Fort Lauderdale about starting up the Songwriters Showcase at their location, and I was there for eight months until their business closed down. I put out the word by email that I was searching for a new venue, and I literally got over 20 invites to relaunch the showcase at various bars, clubs, restaurants, and house concerts." 

Hartigan's best prospects eventually boiled down to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale and the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami. Because she lives practically around the corner from the Broward Center -- and has been a Fort Lauderdale resident since 1959 -- the decision was obvious. The Broward Center subsequently gave her a commitment to continue the showcases until September 2012. 

Not surprisingly, Hartigan's effusive in her enthusiasm for the local scene. "I've got to give local record company Forward Motion Records a plug," she says. "The many artists on Fernando Perdomo's label are outstanding to say the least. But I could go on and on naming other talented songwriters here in South Florida." Among her picks: young Haitian singer/songwriter Inez Barlatier ("Her songs are expressed with an insight of anger, love, regret, and happiness far beyond her years"), multi-instrumentalist Teri Catlin ("a child prodigy who performed violin for Itzhak Perlman"), festival circuit vets the Sosos Band, and singer/songwriter Michael Shivers ("His voice and his lyrics truly move and mesmerize me, and he always leaves me wanting to hear more"). 

Even with this wealth of talent, Hartigan says she wasn't certain about whether the idea of restarting the showcases was a viable one. "To be honest, I was extremely nervous about coming back and reviving the showcases," she admits. "It had been three long years, and I didn't think anyone would remember me or care about songwriters. Then I attended a local Grammy party and was so thrilled to see so many familiar faces. One by one, everyone asked me where had I been and when was I going to bring back the Songwriter's Showcase. They all said I was missed and that this town needed it. I was so surprised and excited by it that I decided to do it." 

Still, Hartigan admits she's a bit perturbed that the South Florida music scene hasn't achieved more notice on a national level. "My personal opinion is that South Florida -- Miami in particular -- is considered a party town and nothing that originates here is taken as seriously as it should be. It's amazing how much talent there is from West Palm, Lake Worth, Delray, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and points in between. You have your pick of rock, blues, jazz, folk, punk, country, Latin, and more, at so many venues of your choosing. We have such a plethora of stellar talent here that there is no reason South Florida can't be as successful as any of those so-called 'music towns' like Austin, New York, or Nashville." 

"Chrystal Hartigan Presents... Songwriters Showcase," a celebration of South Florida talent, takes place on the second Monday of every month in the Abdo New River Room at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The open-mic portion begins at 7:30 p.m. (musicians must sign up by 7:20 to participate) followed by the songwriters "in the round" showcase at 9 p.m. Admission costs $10. Click here, Facebook, and YouTube. 

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Lee Zimmerman