Shawn Lightfoot
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Shawn Lightfoot

Band Americana Singer/Songwriter


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"Writing their way to success"

It is the most basic of music presentations: One musician on stage, armed only with an acoustic guitar, playing a song that he wrote, that she wrote. Nothing more, nothing less. There's no place to hide.

That's the path Chelsea Saddler and Shawn Lightfoot have taken. Two songwriters, two very different styles, playing their gigs around Jacksonville. Usually by themselves, sometimes with another musician or two, just to round out the sound.

They're two of the six finalists, chosen from about 120 entrants, in the annual songwriting contest at Suwannee Springfest. All six will compete for the prize next Thursday, opening the festival.

They'll also play Saturday night at European Street, as part of a continuing songwriters circle.

The two musicians have come to that place on the stage through different routes. Saddler is 21, born and raised in Jacksonville and doesn't weigh much more than her guitar. She's self-taught with no musical training other than a bit of singing in church.

Lightfoot grew up all over the place before settling in Jacksonville eight years ago. And he studied opera in college. Opera.

But at East Carolina University, he came to a point where he had to make a decision.

"My professor said I had a nice voice," Lightfoot said, "but that I'd never be Pavarotti."

So that ended opera. He came to Jacksonville, where his father had retired to from the Navy, and started studying public relations at the University of North Florida.

The year was 2000, and it was a good time for someone learning to be a songwriter.

"There was a lot more happening in Five Points, then," he said. "A lot more for a guy who wanted to write.

"They had the old Fuel open mike night, that was the first thing I did. And Starlight Cafe, Boomtown.

"Starlight was great. I'd do a gig and then head back over there to play some of the songs I really wanted to do."

He's had a few bands during the past eight years. The Lightfoot Brigade, the Daeighlies, Cowford Tramps. But it's always back to the solo . . .

For Saddler, it's all happened pretty quickly. She started playing guitar in her early teens, but didn't do much with it until last year.

Then she started going to open mike nights at the House of Jam, London Bridge and Coffee Roasters.

"I didn't think I was anything special," she said.

But Ray Lewis and Larry Mangum, two guys active in the local music scene for a long time, noticed her.

Less than a year later, she's recorded an album (and celebrated its release on her 21st birthday), started a second and is playing out two or three times a week.

Just like their paths, their music is completely different.

Lightfoot's tunes are almost like bits of the classic songbook, from Boy Gone Crazy, which harkens to a bit of light blues swing from the 1930s, to the Japanese-tinged Orange Blossom Tea (Drink your orange blossom tea, I will carry all my caraway seeds . . . Figure that line out.)

His light, lyric tenor is simply prettier than you'd expect. And for him, the songs are all about the music.

"It all starts with the melody," he said. "Once it goes for a while in my head, once it's started to digest, it starts to mean something to me. I may have a song written before I start to write it down.

"If it doesn't stay in my head, it's not good enough.

"But I'm pretty scientific about it. I'm aware that you can only sing certain vowels on high notes."

Saddler's songs are straightforward, personal bits of folk songwriting that seem well past her 21 years: Taste a glass of wine, just to get you off my mind. I guess this is how it feels when a heart breaks.

"It's always different," she said. "Sometimes I'll write a guitar lick and think, 'You know what'd go well with that, an I-hate-guys song.' But mostly, it's about the words.

"With the music that I listen to, it's always songwriters with something to say. I can't listen to rap; it's always 'Let's go to the club and shoot someone.' I can't listen to metal because I can't understand the words."

So she has a shoe box full of napkins, paper towels, receipts with a few words scribbled on them.

"It's horrible," she said. "I bet it's been a month since I tried to go through it. There's so much in there."

Saddler works part time in a retail store. Lightfoot substitute teaches. At night, they place their guitar straps over their shoulders, face the crowd and sing their songs.

But there are not many places for people like them, for people who want to play pretty much their own songs.

"I'd do a Bob Dylan song," Saddler said, "and someone would say 'Do you know any Johnny Cash? Jimmy Buffett?' And I'd say, 'No, I just know that one.' "

"Drunk people," she said, "only want to hear songs they already know."

But she's built up a local following, and now people are starting to request Dirty South and Caroline.

Lightfoot said he's lucky if he can make it 50-50 between originals and covers.

"If you turn it up loud enough and play something they know, they'll listen," he said. "But that doesn't really satisfy the soul. You can only play Blister in the Sun about 100 times."

So they play on, working their part-time jobs, playing music when that works out.

"I don't see myself as a working musician," Lightfoot said. "I see myself as a songwriter who happens to get paid."

"Here's me, here's my guitar and here's what I play," Saddler said. "I really don't play that well, I don't sing that well, but I do have something to say."

- The Florida Times-Union

"Haunting or Ethereal? You Decide."

After a friend saw songwriter Shawn Lightfoot perform, she said he reminded her of a minstrel. She said all that was missing was the little pointy hat.

This must be a great compliment to Lightfoot, a 22-year-old UNF student who considers his songs works of modern art.

"I was really inspired by opera and late Romantic art-songs," Lightfoot told me last week.

"Very inspired by that, because I think that I have a natural ear for melody. A lot of my stuff is very melodic. Some people go as far as to say that it's haunting, but I guess you'd have to judge that for yourself."

I wouldn't go quite so far as to say that it's haunting, actually, but I would go so far as to say that it's ethereal, patient music that, in a good way, is pretty disconnected from most of what's happening in pop music today.

"It takes me a while to get around to [listening to] CDs," Lightfoot said. "It's not until a friend puts a gun to my head and makes me listen to it."

Lightfoot has a distinct style, but at a certain point someone must've held him at gunpoint and put Jeff Buckley's Grace on the hi-fi. Lightfoot may cite Leonard Cohen and Billie Holiday as pop influences, but his soaring vocals and oddly cadenced delivery are all Buckley.

Lightfoot will perform tomorrow night at the grand opening of the Boomtown Theatre, a new performing arts venue in Springfield committed to promoting music unavailable elsewhere in town.

The place is run by entrepreneur/provocateur Stephen Dare, a man of eclectic tastes who reminds me of no one so much as Jane's Addiction and Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell.

Dare wants to establish regular world beat and acid jazz nights at his venue. He's also working on bringing in "a really beautiful Japanese reggae band."

As for Lightfoot, Dare's praise is effusive.

"Have you heard his CD?" he asks. "It's beautiful to listen to, but [in] the live performance he's very transformative. It's hard to be mad at people after listening to him. "

Dare has devoted Boomtown's Saturdays to Lightfoot. He's calling the evenings Saturday Night Salon, hoping to draw an espresso-sipping crowd open-minded enough to appreciate, say, Lightfoot's ode to Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the reluctant leader who planned Japan's attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Lightfoot calls the song "a dialogue with him and his inner child," and Dare has paired it with a spoken word reading by local writer Bob Shipp.

And is there a market for such a thing in notoriously rock-centric Jacksonville?

"I'd like to think so," Lightfoot said. "Otherwise I'll be playing Eric Clapton covers."

- The Florida Times-Union

"Fancy Footwork"

Any local musician who earns comparisons to Freddie Mercury is bound to turn your head. Singer/songwriter Shawn Lightfoot claims disparate influences - Billie Holliday, Led Zeppelin, classical composer Gabriel Faure - but suffice it to say this acoustic folkie isn't your run-of-the-mill guy with a guitar. Born in the Philipines, Lightfoot taps into his Asian heritage to offer a blend of East and West for an intriguingly mellow sound that's impossible to ignore.

This sound developed over the course of six years while Lightfoot honed his musical skills in Jacksoville's Riverside area. It was there he was inspired to write his first solo album "Nocturnes and Serenades." The record, which was released in mid-July, was strongly influenced by Lightfoot's first experience of falling in love, not with a woman, but with the culture-rich neighborhood he calls home. "In a way, (the album) is kind of like a love note to Riverside itself because I fell in love with the area when I first found it," Lightfoot says. "There's no place like it."

The disc features several songs about love, loss, or something in between. Lightfoot compares the album's structure to a song cycle that follows the linear course of a relationship: "Boy finds girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy screws up and loses girl."

At the same time "Nocturnes and Serenades" was released, local singer/songwriter Jessica Pounds (who is dating Lightfoot) released her own CD, "Daydream and Telescopes." The album mixes Pounds' nostalgic, jazzy voice and infectiously funky guitar rhythms in a way that complements Lightfoot's eclectic style. In February, Pounds joined Lightfoot and upright bassist
Donovan King to form indie folk trio The Daeighlies. While performing live, Lightfoot and Pounds trade off each other's solo material and sometimes perform live duets, such as the Cash/Carter song "Jackson".
King rounds out the trio with his calm, cool bass to create a sound that's jazzy and laidback.

After months of playing local gigs, however, The Daeighlies felt the need to break away from Jacksonville and "see what else is out there." In mid-August, they embarked on their first tour - a one month circuit of the East Coast. The tour now over, Lightfoot says it was a valuable learning experience that came with some networking opportunities. "We've learned what to do and what not to do," Lightfoot says. "We've even made really good contacts in the cities that we've been to."

Back in Jacksonville, Lightfoot is currently working on material for his second solo album, "That Sweet Sothern Style." On this Southern-fried jazz record, Lightfoot hopes to bring out his louder, cockier side with a "very well-dressed, country-punk" vibe. "(The new album) is gonna be more rockin', more up-tempo, a little bit crazy and wild," Lightfoot says. "It's gonna have a lot more brash songs on it." The record should be released in early 2007. But Lightfoot's solo work won't replace his collaborations. He will continue to play with the Daeighlies lineup and plans to work with Pounds on some original material for a future release. He's also eager to head back out on the road for a set of regional tour dates. "After this tour, I've decided that I've got to go back," says Lightfoot, "then take a month off and plan the next our."

-----Lynn Wallace, 10/17/06 - The Folio Weekly


Nocturne's and Serenades, July 2006. That Old Sweet Southern Style, December 2008.



Shawn Lightfoot may have visited Jacksonville, Florida in 2000 under the guise of a quick return to North Carolina to finish music school, but he soon found his career as an opera singer had met an untimely end. Struggling with bills, Lightfoot made the decision to make his home in Jacksonville. Years of studying music have afforded him with an ear for music that transcends the run of the mill music songwriter. Gaining inspiration from the bohemian neighborhood of 5 Points, his lyrics strut with their heart on their sleeves and deliver a caustic wit through booming tenor vocals. Assertive melodies act as snapshots capturing the angst of the South as he performs in the self-conscious bravado of a jazz singer. Suit and tie with his occasional guitar solos help him resuscitate the pulse of gospel hymns, folk, country, and the homespun sound reminiscent to Jeff Buckley if he were Billy Holiday for the day. His sound equates to 50% captivation, 50% uneasiness, and 50% serene tranquility. Lightfoot started performing at Fuel and quickly became a staple in the local music scene of Jacksonville. Soon he had a steady fan base and started his band The Lightfoot Brigade. Four years later and over 300 hundred shows played in every smoky venue in the region, Lightfoot has gone back to playing solo. He released Nocturnes and Serenades in 2006 and acclaimed reviews by numerous publications and his song writing capabilities won him a finalist spot at the 2008 Suwannee Springfest Songwriting Competition. Recently, Lightfoot’s second EP That Old Sweet Southern Style was released in December of 2008.