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The History of PASA

(Thanks to Rob Lincoln for writing this history.)

What is PASA?

PASA is the Philadelphia Area Songwriters' Alliance. Its motto is "fostering community, craft, and career development." It is currently one of two independent volunteer songwriting organizations in the Philadelphia area (the other being the Philadelphia Songwriters Project, PSP). In addition, there are other songwriting organizations in the Philadelphia area, which are local chapters of national songwriters' organizations such as the Eastern PA Chapter of the Nashville Songwriters' Association International (EPNSAI) and Just Plain Folks.

The organization’s co-coordinators are Sharon Abbott and Christine Winchester. They should be contacted on all policy decisions as well as membership issues.

What makes PASA special is that it focuses on the craft of songwriting and is equally interested in the performing and non-performing songwriter. Many of our fine sister organizations have more of a career oriented focus. PASA's focus on craft has allowed it to create some innovative free songwriter events, especially over the last half dozen years or so.

Some History

The old Philadelphia Area Songwriters' Alliance (PASA) was formed back in the late 1980's. PASA was originally organized by singer/songwriter Dan Hart and Tom and Marianne Tucker. Early members included songwriter/photographer Robert Corwin and award winning singer/songwriter Jackie Tice.

Early on in PASA the "songshare" was established. It allowed songwriters to bring unfinished songs to be critiqued by a small number of songwriting peers. This activity has continued to the present day.

In the early 1990's Rob Lincoln became more active in PASA and along with long time PASA chair Christine Winchester and a small committee of folks including graphic artist/songwriter David C. Perry, helped organize PASA's compilation CD Declaration! (produced by Joe Hammer), which is readily available at Amazon.com and various on-line outlets throughout the Internet. Throughout the 1990's, under Christine's leadership, PASA hosted regular songwriter showcases around the Philadelphia area and further improved upon the PASA songshare format.

Around 2001, the Philadelphia Songwriters' Association, led by Erik Balkey, proposed a merger between PSA and PASA. The two organizations merged to become the Philadelphia Songwriters’ Alliance (PSA). After the two organizations merged, Christine stepped down and Erik became coordinator for the newly expanded organization. A few weeks later, Rob proposed to Erik two ideas that he had been thinking about for quite a while: the establishment of two new songwriter events -- a regular house concert series and a day-long songwriters’ festival.

In 2002, Erik Balkey stepped down as PSA coordinator to concentrate on a full-time career as a touring singer-songwriter. Rob Lincoln asked Christine Winchester to become the PSA coordinator. She would agree only if there was a co-chair. PSA was very fortunate to have Sharon Abbott take on the role of PSA co-chair with Christine. Sharon is the key person who writes 90% of all PSA communication, including the monthly newsletters. She is the one who attends the majority of events and oversees many of the PSA activities. Other key volunteers are David Kleiner, who coordinates the monthly songshares, and Wes Powers, who is the webmaster. Rob Lincoln is the e-mail coordinator in addition to his work with the Summer Songfest and house concerts.

In 2007, partly because of the popularity of the Prostate Specific Antigen test, also called "PSA", the organization was renamed back to the Philadelphia Area Songwriters' Alliance (PASA).

The Summer Songfest

The Summer Songfest was originally conceived by Rob Lincoln as a songwriting festival, much like the daytime workshop format of the Philadelphia Folk Festival, with an evening concert. After discussing it with his friend and fellow PSA member Tony DeSantis, Tony suggested instead of booking performers ahead of time, make it more informal and allow anyone to run any songwriting topic they wish, kind of like the Philadelphia Folk Song Society’s Spring Thing or Fall Fling. After that conversation, Rob designed a new format that had some of both elements but was distinctly different from either.

The new event allowed songwriters to choose from a menu of songwriting circles in which they would then perform their songs. These “songcircles” varied from styles of songs such as “jazzy/blues” to lyrical topics such as “Political/Topical.” Songcircle leaders would be recruited ahead of time, but any songwriter could perform their songs in the appropriate songcircle, and then stay for an evening open stage. Erik Balkey approved the concept and came up with the catchy name “Summer Songfest.” The first Summer Songfest was held in August 2002 at PSA member Tom Chirip’s home in Swedesboro, NJ. It was very successful, with more than 25 attendees. Christine Winchester suggested at this event that it would be nice to have some kind of opportunity to write new songs. As a result, Rob designed concurrent songwriting workshops and added them to the next Summer Songfest that took place in August 2003 at the home of PSA member David Kleiner. This format of songcircles running concurrently with songwriting workshops and an evening open stage is the design that the Summer Songfest has followed since 2003.

The addition of songwriting workshops proved so popular, in fact, that PSA member Tom Cooney suggested that an additional event in the winter just for creating new songs would be nice. Christine agreed to design that event, which Rob christened the “Winter Songworks.” Since that time, Christine Winchester and Sharon Abbott have alternated in coordinating that event.

The Summer SongFest and Winter Songworks have become fixtures in what PSA offers to songwriters. We fully expect that they will outlive their creators and be replicated in other cities as well. Too bad they can’t be copyrighted!

PSA Monthly House Concerts

The PSA house concerts were initially an experiment and were done on a quarterly basis. There was some disagreement as to whether Rob could successfully secure quality performers and actually get an audience on a consistent basis. In 2001, Erik Balkey approved of Rob’s house concert concept as long as the concerts did not charge a fee and performers played without pay. This would keep the event well within the mission of PSA and also make it much easier to run and sustain.

The house concerts started off slowly, but within a year they were so popular they became a monthly event. A big part of the success has been due to the outstanding house concert PSA songwriter hosts -- most notably David Kleiner, Jon Sagle, and Janet Sclaroff, who over the years have developed a small following from their own friends and neighbors. They have been a critical factor for the success of the house concert series. But there are at least two other factors as well.

One factor for the success of the house concerts is the design. The house concerts from day one were a round-robin design so no one performer dominates and no audience member can leave after seeing "who they came to see." In addition, at the second house concert in September 2001, one of the performers could not make it and the "open chair" was born. The open chair is a rather unusual innovation where after each of the three headliners play a song, a member of the audience can come up and finish the round. This enables many talented players to come and share their talents as well. More than one open chair performer has become a headliner at a later house concert.

Another very important factor for the success of the PSA house concert series is the performers themselves. Nearly every kind of singer-songwriter has played the PSA house concert. For the touring singer-songwriter it is an opportunity to try out some new material and pick up some new fans. For the local performing singer-songwriter it’s also a great opportunity to network with their peers and sell CDs. And for those songwriters who do not perform often, it is a welcome venue and a way for others to hear them. Every songwriter loves a listening audience. These audiences, though small (usually 15-30 people), are always listening.

Rob Lincoln is proud to have founded the PSA house concert series and to have booked every performer since its inception. He has known many of these performers, but others he has sought out. It has been an honor to get to know all of them and hear their music.