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Otsego Club Helps Budding Songwriters

Lyn Sawyer

If you happen to walk into the M-89 Bar & Grill in Otsego on the third Sunday of the month, don’t expect to hear your favorite cover band. For ten years, the Chili Pepper Songwriting Club has made sure that this night is about original songwriters.

It's not your typical open mic night. Rather it’s a chance for local songwriters to share their original songs without competing bar noise. There’s a sign-up sheet, and if you’re lucky to arrive before a quarter to six, there’s a good chance you’ll make it into one of the three rounds of the evening.

Clayton Sawyer is one of the founding members of the Chili Pepper Songwriting Club. He says the "write nights" are all about providing a platform for local songwriters. “We’re just trying to provide a safe space. We want to hear the song. We want to hear the stories, because we’re not sure that we’re doing it right. We love to hear how other people (and) their process.”

The write nights began in 2008 as the Chili Peppers looked for a place to perform their original songs. Within six months the rounds were filling up each night, allowing the group to co-write and network with other local songwriters. Chili Pepper Nate Cremeans says that helps everyone improve.

“We don’t want anything from you. We just believe in the songwriting process. And if we can give you the yellow brick road to get some place where you can actually write songs with people that really know what they’re doing...all we can do is train you to our (level) and then you can surpass us.”

Credit Greyson Steele / WMUK
The Chili Pepper Songwriting Club hosts its "Write Night" on the third Sunday of the month at the M-89 Bar & Grill in Otsego

Shelby Lentz was introduced to the Chili Peppers when she was 15. Over the next six years, she says the group helped her grow in more ways than one.

“I don’t think I would be anywhere near the songwriter or even the person that I am if I hadn’t interacted with the Chili Peppers at such a young age. The experiences and the exposure and just the love and compassion that they’ve shown me for the past six years has taken me so much further than I could ever put into words.”

Charlie Mench has been writing and performing with the Chili Peppers for five years, after finding out about the group in the local newspaper. He says what keeps him coming back is the unique platform the group provides for local songwriters.

“The first time that I came was Clayton or whoever announcing that this is about the songwriters. If you want to have a conversation or laugh and talk, go on in the back. It was one of those things that hit me right then and there was damn, there was nowhere around here that did it like that.”

When the Chili Peppers began hosting the write nights, they wondered if anyone would show up. Now, in their tenth year, Cremeans says they have built something that he's proud of: a family.

“Now it has turned into something. We wanted it. We asked for it. But now it’s, we gotta do four rounds instead of three. You know, gotta cut em’ down to two songs and they’re mad because they want to do three. You know, we don’t know how to cut it off and we don’t know who to kick out.”

The next Chili Pepper write night will be Sunday, February 18, at the M-89 Bar & Grill in Otsego from 6 to 9 p.m. Sign-ups are open to all ages and begin at 5:45.

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