Third Time’s a Charm
Third place [Sidenote: Part twenty-one of our series on Woodyfest 21 features songwriter Robert Thatcher.] in the annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival Songwriting Contest (2018) went to Robert Thatcher and Tom Brown. Thatcher and his wife and musical partner Alice Thatcher performed the winning song, “On the Wings of a Song,” as part of a short showcase on the Pastures of Plenty Stage on festival Friday. Thatcher and Brown had previously received honorable mention in the contest for their 2017 entry, “Would I Be Welcome,” and Thatcher’s song “Woody” received the same honor in 2007. [Sidenote: It might have been 2008; Thatcher’s memory of the date is unclear.]
The songwriting duo garnered honorable mention in the 2017 Musicians United Against the Pebble Mine Songwriting Contest. This year they placed third in the American Songwriter lyric contest for their song “The Glitter of Gold (Song to Save Bristol Bay).” [Sidenote: American Songwriter, “Lyric Contest Winners: March/April 2018”] The Thatchers live in Signal Mountain, Tennessee; Brown hangs his hat in Varnell, Georgia.
The Thatchers are two-thirds of the trio The Orchard Band, based in the Chattanooga area, along with guitarist, banjo player, and singer Paul M. Hendricks. Alice sings and Robert plays guitar and mandolin and sings.
Thatcher’s songs draw from place (Appalachia), tradition (bluegrass music) and nature. Much of his writing concerns the fragility of the environment as it butts up against human activity and the toll environmental degradation has taken on traditional Appalachian folkways.
Although not present to perform the winning song with the Thatchers, Brown does perform with his band Spatial Effects, of which he is a founding member. Brown co-wrote the bluegrass musical comedy Fat Shirley’s: A Trailer Park Opera with David Crawford. The 2005 musical enjoyed a revival at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In 2014 he collaborated with poet Peggy Douglas, writing the music to her play Twisted Roots. The play is based on the writings and life of poet Emma Bell Miles (1879 – 1919).