Rock Island: What is Poets and Pickers? What makes it unique from a typical songwriting circle?
Mike Sixonete: Poets and Pickers is a songwriters series that challenges the participating musicians to write a song about a random topic in one week. The song is then performed live at the event. I host the series and a panel of 3-4 musicians are on stage with microphones and guitars. For the first round, each musician will talk a bit about themselves and an original song which they then perform.
The second round is known as “The Challenge Round”. This is where the songs that each musician has written in the previous week are discussed and performed. We talk about the writing process which gives the audience an intimate look at the individual's songwriting process.
The third round is very laid back, it is known as “The Jam Round”. In this final round each musician plays an original song and the other musicians are encouraged to play along and sing harmonies etc. This round has been a favourite among most of our performers. We also highlight other songwriters at each event. We have played Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, Stan Rogers, and many others.
RI: What is the cost to attend an event and how long are they typically?
MS: The event is 2.5 hours in duration and tickets usually cost between $12-$25 depending on the venue and location. The series is mobile and can be booked anywhere on the island.
RI: Who are some previous performers that have participated in Poets and Pickers?
MS: This series has seen many performers. Some past participants are Chris Picco (The Long Distance Runners), Mike Davis (The Novaks), Jodi Richardson (Pathological Lovers), Brianna Gosse, Sherry Ryan, Len O'Niell (Green and Gold), Rick Lambe, Colin Harris, Evan Aucoin, Cassandra Abbott, Terry Reilly, Dave Mundy, Kellie Loder, Taylor Wall, Danielle Bailey, Curtis Keats, Gene Browne, and Nick Whelan. This is just a small list of some of the amazing talent that have taken part so far!
RI: How did the series get its start?
MS: Poets and Pickers started in early 2015. I had a vision of a songwriters series that got to highlight songwriters in a different way. We can all hear someone play a song they have polished and perfected any night of the week in any bar downtown, or elsewhere. Those songs are well rehearsed. The idea came from a conversation with good friend and venue owner Gene Browne. I said I wanted to host an event where we could challenge musicians to write a song in one week. Originally we picked the topics from a hat, and then it evolved. We started having our participants from the previous event come up with the topics for the following week. Past topics have included things like “A one horse town”, “Being abducted by aliens”, “Floating across the grand canyon in a balloon”, and many others I can’t even remember honestly, there have been well over a hundred given out.
RI: Why did you decide to start the shows earlier than a typical bar show?
MS: We wanted to start the “Early Music Revolution” so we decided on every Wednesday night at 8pm at The Levee. Last year I also tried to make sure there was no cover to the event so we had a free songwriters series with an open stage and a lot of interest right off the bat. We had lots of regulars that also wanted to participate and our list of musicians grew to over 30 by then of the first year. Over the winter I decided that I wanted to personally pick people to challenge, I wanted a small intimate stage with all seasoned musicians. The first event of the year had Mike Davis, Jodi Richardson, Sherry Ryan, and Kellie Loder. That show really tuned me on to what Poets and Pickers would become.
RI: You have also started expanding the series to include other communities, is it doing well outside of St. John’s?
MS: I noticed quickly that other communities really loved the idea and it wasn’t long before the series was booked in Twillingate, Grates Cove, Portugal Cove, and other communities. Our response from owners and promoters has been amazing. Crystal Anstey who runs “Focus By The Sea” in Twillingate has had us back two years in a row and is hoping to book again next year. Paulette King of “The Ferry Last Stop Cafe” is also interested in becoming a regular stop on the circuit.
RS: How have the performers reacted to the challenge of having to write a new song on a topic they received just a week before the show?
MS: The topics are so out to lunch and most people would never normally write about those things. My most recent one was “Finding out you are the star of the Truman Show”. I friggin sweat trying to come up with something and only really wrote the song about 2 hours before the show. That seems to be a popular scenario. I have done this challenge 14 times now as the host and this event has helped me immensely as a songwriter, I have opened my own creative doors in ways that I never would have before starting this event. The series has helped a lot of artists network and find a deeper respect for other people’s songwriting process. It is really interesting to see how other people interpret the topics they are given.
Poets and Pickers is only getting started. Each year we grow exponentially and we don't plan on
losing steam. The end game is to have this as an annual tour for songwriters from all over the
island to get to perform in other communities and share our art. The vision is very clear and we
are taking the steps to bring Newfoundland's premier songwriter series to your door step.
For booking info visit: