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Bring unfinished work to song workshop at the Folk

Being labeled an “enabler” isn’t always a bad thing. In the clubby and highly specialized world of songwriting, Brett Perkins is an enabler of the best kind; in short, he helps songs get born.

The Arcadia, California native and longtime Copenhagen, Denmark resident is one of those rare multi-tool species in the songwriting world: a successful teacher, collaborator, writer, presenter, producer, musician and performer.

Mr. Perkins will bring all that experience to bear Saturday, June 8 for a 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. song workshop at the Folk Music Center, 220 Yale Ave., Claremont. Tickets are $20.

His primary area of interest lies in the contemporary indie, acoustic music, singer-songwriter format.

“In the last few years I’ve been co-writing with younger artists who had the passion in the story and perhaps not all the craft skills to make certain choices,” he said. “So I really just help them realize what I understood that they wanted to make happen with the song, but perhaps in a more effective way.”

The two hour songwriting class includes a brief rundown of Mr. Perkins’ story.

 “It’s just enough to say, ‘I’m one of you. I do it for love, and here are a few things I’ve learned the hard way.’ And I tell people my perspective on songwriting and some of the ways I’ve learned to look differently at my own work to make it more effective and communicate more effectively.”

He’s written well over 1,000 songs over his four decade career, and taps into this vast experience as he shepherds songwriters. Newcomers may be intimidated after glancing at his resumé, but it’s clear he’s a gentle guide.

“I qualify all of it by saying, ‘These may be true for me, but I do need them to be true for you,’” he said. “So it’s truth with a small ‘t.’ It’s not, ‘You must do this and you can’t do that.’ That’s bogus. When you’re talking about art and self-expression, they’re bigger than rules.”

He hopes participants will bring in unfinished work, or songs they feel may be missing something.

“I’m not saying I know what’s best, but I do say ‘Here’s what I hear, and here are a couple of options. What do you think?’ And we try it, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s very interactive.”

Although a de-facto European for more than 20 years, California, Claremont, and the Folk Music Center in particular remain close to his heart.

“It’s one of my favorite places in the world,” he said of the Folk. “I wandered in there when Charles Chase was still living, and he looked like Gandalf, maybe not from the film, but from how I imagined him when I read The Hobbit as a teenager. He had this twinkle in his eye and this long flowing hair. And he was just so present. It was like we’d know each other for years.

“Maybe he was like that with everyone, but he was just so open and welcoming and childlike in a way, but also this grand elder man. And he gave me two of his poetry books that day. I’ve hung on to those for years, and have really enjoyed them. So every time I would come back from Denmark and needed my California fix, I would drive out to Claremont and wander around the Folk Music Center. I love it there. It’s really nice to be doing workshops in that space.”

The day after the Claremont workshop, Mr. Perkins will be in Idyllwild for one of his twice yearly retreats. It will be followed by the free and open to the public Idyllwild Songwriters Festival June 13-16 under the pines at the Spirit Mountain Retreat Center. More information on the festival is at idysongfest.com.

After that he’ll be heading back to Denmark for more song enabling. “I guess if you’re going to be stressed—I mean there are challenges and stresses with any path that you take—but hopefully it’s one that you’re passionate about so that passion can help you through the rough patches.”

Links to some of Mr. Perkins’ handpicked highlights from his 1,000-plus song catalog can be found at brettperkins.com. More info on tomorrow’s songwriting workshop is at folkmusiccenter.com.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com