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Megan Bee shares her songwriting experiences and the stories behind Cottonwood

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Megan Bee performing at WCBE October 14, 2022

Athens-Ohio based Megan Bee chats with Music Journeys about her latest release Cottonwood. Many of the songs stemmed from a weekly songwriter's challenge. She's also among the instructors for the second annual Words in the Hills Spring Retreat, which takes place April 21-23, 2023 in the Hocking Hills. The retreat welcomes anyone who enjoys the art of writing regardless of genre and experience. For Megan, stories inspire songs and songs inspire stories. She'll share the inspiration behind her latest batch of songs and respond to the listener-favorite segment we have at the end called the Fast Five. Thanks for listening.

Megan Bee MJ ID

Cottonwood Leaves plays...

The opening track from Megan Bee's Cottonwood release may suggest waiting in silence for a question but the answer when it comes to songwriting often comes from collaboration.

"I liked being in a group of people, and I didn't want to stand out at all," Bee recalled. "I was working at a summer camp, and I started travelling and working on organic farms. Eventually, I ended up around a campfire where people were singing, and I was singing along. Someone put a guitar in my hands, taught me some chords and I just fell in love. It was like falling in love with your best friend. I always loved to write, and I would make up songs in my head but I didn't have the vehicle to share them or the desire to be in front of people so I kept to myself. Once I had the guitar, it gave me something to play with and I didn't turn back."

Sister plays...

Bee grew up in northwest Ohio in Ottawa County, but she moved to southeast Ohio in 2003 to attend Hocking College.

"I became exposed to a lot more acoustic music, around-the-campfire music, string band and bluegrass," Bee continued. "Travelling around and hanging out around campfires exposed me to all these old folks songs that are still so alive today."

Angel From Montgomery by John Prine plays...

"That's one I would hear around the campfire for sure," Bee recalled of John Prine's Angel From Montgomery. "Everyone would play it a little differently but we all would sing along to the words. Personally, my friend Myron who was the first person to put a guitar in my hands. He lives in Oregon and has written a bunch of great tunes that aren't recorded but are played for a select few who end up out there around the campfire. There's so many pockets of music and so many local artists anywhere you go. A lot of these local artists don't travel or go anywhere, but they've got a handful of songs that their friends know and want them to sing around the fire and to get to be exposed to that is pretty special. I love being exposed to the nitty gritty music that exists on the fringes that doesn't make it to modern radio or the internet."

Some of the songs on Cottonwood stemmed from a weekly songwriter's circle organized by Bruce Dalzell, who also co-produced, engineered, and performed on the album.

"You have one word and an hour to write the song," Bee said of the challenge. "So then we come back and share these songs, and 95 percent of the songs I write I never share but sometimes there's a nugget or rhyme in there I might use. Sometimes people will hang on to them and record them or play them again. But I love being in that spontaneous place. Late nights around the campfire, it's fun to create a song out of nothing."

Ecstasy plays...

"That started in one of my songwriting groups, and the word was ecstasy," Bee recalled. "I immediately went to this little desert scene. But just thinking about drugs and friends and people I've known that do a lot of drugs. It's kind of a wish that maybe you don't need all the drugs. I hope you can love life without the drugs. It's a subject I haven't heard sung about very often. I'm not condemning anything. I just have some hope and some questions."

Never Known plays...

"I do believe in the process of writing," Bee continued. "I like to dive in. (Never Known) gives a voice to a child that was never born. There's a park in our town that has a bench with a plaque that's dedicated to all the women who've lost a child. If you don't read the plaque it's not obvious, and in our culture it's not obvious either. Every time someone loses a young child, that doesn't make it to the family tree but it's so impactful to the family. I was thinking about my own family tree and wondering how many people didn't happen. And then for the production, I played guitar. Then I sent it to my friend, Barefoot McCoy, to add some piano. Then Bruce Dalzell said let's take your guitar out, and we decided it needs nothing else. I love what he did. It brings the whole theme of it to a deeper place."

Another song that came in a special way, Fever.

Fever plays...

"I was reading the book Follow the River based on the true story of Mary Ingles who lived in the 1700s," Bee said. "Her town was raided and she was taken and held captive. She paid attention and knew she could follow these big rivers. She found a time to escape and walked about 700 miles. An incredible story about the human will to survive. If I can hear a story of somebody going through something harder and coming through it, it's so motivating. When I share it more in public, the response has been amazing because people put their own stories in it. You can't get too far in this life without facing challenges. I've had cancer survivors reach out on how they relate to the song. I've had people who've been through a horrible divorce comment on how that's how they felt during their journey. It's not just the story of this one woman, it's really for everybody. That one has grown for me and become really special."

Used To Be plays...

"I wrote this song during the summer of 2020 in Hocking Hills," Bee said. "I like to leave that one a little open to interpretation. On a very obvious level, seeking your younger self or something you used to be. Then on a really big level, maybe it's about some past life or reincarnation or coming back to what you used to be."

Fickle plays...

"It's like breathing," Bee said of music. "Making music is how I process life. It's this great release and joy and act of creating. People who do other things find it there. To create music is very life-affirming. To hear great music and see your friends write something, it's just a wonderful thing. Then I'll watch physical artists paint something, and I watch mothers get joy out of watching their kids. Music is just the lense I live through."

For more details about Words in the Hills, visit wordsinthehills.com

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Mike Foley joined WCBE in February 2000, coming from WUFT in Gainesville, Florida. Foley has worked in various roles, from producing news and feature stories to engineering Live From Studio A sessions. A series of music features Foley started in 2018 called Music Journeys has grown into a podcast and radio show. He also assists in developing other programs in WCBE's Podcast Experience. Foley hosts The Morning Mix, a weekday music show featuring AAA, Columbus-area and Ohio-based musicians, along with additional artists that inspire him.