Music News

Grand Dame

Chrystal Hartigan had been on the job a scant three months when the Allman Brothers changed her life forever. The year was 1990, and she had just started working as an office manager at Tel-Air Interests -- a TV- and film-production company that leased space at North Miami's legendary Criteria Recording Studios -- when the blues-rock deities showed up to lay down tracks for their critically lauded comeback album, Seven Turns. Hartigan got to know one of the group's guitar technicians, who invited her to sit in on the sessions.

"That was a real honor," says Hartigan, now a respected South Florida music promoter. "I got to listen to Gregg Allman lay down vocal tracks, Dickey Betts on guitar. I met all the band members, and their producer was Tom Dowd. He is the master, and sitting there just watching him work -- he cupped his ear and leaned his head into the glass [partition between the control room and] where they were laying down tracks -- was so mesmerizing."

Indeed Hartigan had witnessed something special. Seven Turns helped restore the Allmans' reputation and contained the best blues-based songs the band had released since Idlewild South a full two decades earlier. And the studio experience sparked Hartigan's inner drive.

"I walked away from those sessions saying, "I don't know how, when, or where, but I'm going to be in the music business,'" she recalls. "There was just something about watching Tom Dowd. I just knew I wanted to be in the business end of it."

Hartigan admits she can neither play an instrument nor carry a tune, but her talent for the business side of the music industry has been a blessing for South Florida's singers and guitar slingers. In August Hartigan received an award recognizing her work with Songwriters in the Round, a singer-songwriter showcase she cofounded four years ago. Not only does the popular event provide a venue for up-and-coming local artists, it puts them into direct contact with the established national acts brought in as guest performers. As they say, it's not what you know, it's who you know.

Hartigan also helped establish an educational outreach program that takes songwriters into local schools, and she's the mastermind behind Music Industry Networking Night, a bimonthly event at which veterans from all facets of the music business present workshops to industry neophytes. For four years she acted as music coordinator for Lovefest, the annual Hollywood charity event that features some 100 bands at 15 venues.

She's also something of a poet-songwriter herself, publishing her own material, and that of other artists, through Hollywood East Music Group, a music-publishing and events-production company she runs from her small beachfront apartment in Hollywood.

Musicians she's met and worked with through her various endeavors will be in the crowd and on stage September 26 for Chrystal and Helaine's 50th Birthday Bash: A Celebration of Women in the Music Biz. The free event at Alligator Alley takes place on Hartigan's 50th birthday, and she shares the party with Helaine Blum, a long-time South Florida music educator and promoter who also just turned 50. Two songwriter rounds -- one for male and one for female performers -- are highlights of the evening. Similar to the "rounds" at the bimonthly Songwriters in the Round (the next one is scheduled for October 10 at Café Nostalgia in Miami Beach), the party will feature groups of performers on stage at the same time trading off on the mic. At the same time, an electric stage will host a slate of regional rock acts, while an acoustic stage will feature lighter fare.

The birthday blowout marks another turning point for Hartigan, as she explained during a recent interview over java at a coffee bar in Fort Lauderdale. Hartigan already has five grandchildren, but you'd never know it to look at the tanned, svelte blonde with just a few gray strands laced through her shoulder-length hair. The only thing grandmotherly about her appearance is the wire-rimmed granny glasses that frame her piercing blue eyes.

"My next step is to lead more into the publishing, pitching songs, continuing the networking [night], continuing in the schools," Hartigan says from the comfort of an overstuffed armchair, speaking above the screech of an espresso machine. Her work for Songwriters, the networking event, and Lovefest was all done on a volunteer basis, she explains, and since quitting her full-time job with Tel-Air in May of last year, she's been able to devote more time to her own business. "That was really my intention a few years ago, when I started [Hollywood East]," she says. "I just got so busy with the day-to-day operations of Songwriters in the Round and did Lovefest for four years, and I was still working up until about a year and a half ago. What I'd like to do is to have a team of songwriters that I've got under my publishing company, pitching their songs as well as my own to artists and labels."

After Songwriters' four-year anniversary in August, Hartigan gave up her role with the event, which she cofounded with songwriter-producer Desmond Child (best known for penning Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca") and others. Having friends like Child and Tom Dowd certainly doesn't hurt when it comes to selling songs. "I am able to get through some of those doors by being put through to A&R reps or someone with a label," she notes. "I would hope -- with the work that I've done, the things I continue to do, the credibility -- I hope that I'll be able to get in through those doors and have some success. I've got some good songs, and there's some good talent here that should be heard."

She's cowritten tunes with local pop-rocker Billy Livesay, folk-blues singer Kathy Fleishmann, and country songwriter Michael Judge, a former South Floridian who relocated to Nashville. The song she wrote with Livesay, "Breakthrough," is being considered by the Backstreet Boys, among others. "I've got a country song that I'd love to get to Clint Black, but he's very hard to get to," she adds.

She's also focusing more energy on seeking grants to fund music-in-schools programs similar to the volunteer effort started through Songwriters, and she plans to organize music showcases and bring in talent scouts from labels.

And while she's busy building a stable of songwriters for Hollywood East, she's also planning her first big event for next year, a songwriters festival.

"I've actually been wanting to do that for a couple of years, and I'm just really working away at it now," says Hartigan, noting that the idea came to her while attending Nashville's Tin Pan South, a full week of songwriter showcases. Her one-night event will be held in downtown Hollywood at roughly 15 clubs. "There are an awful lot of songwriters here, so that's not even a problem," she says. "But I would like to get some of the songwriters -- some of the accomplished ones who have hits out -- from Nashville, L.A., and New York, so I'm talking with some of the publishing companies in those areas to send their writers here. And just as I did with Lovefest, I'll invite A&R reps, managers, and producers."

She has the fest tentatively scheduled for next spring. The working title? "2001: A Songwriters' Odyssey."

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John Ferri