SUNDANCE PART THREE: Derek Smalls, Fox Wilde, ZZ Ward, Jobi Riccio and Steven Dayvid McKellar of Civil Twilight Wrap Up an Extraordinary 2020 Sundance ASCAP Music Café

By Erik Philbrook, ASCAP Editor in Chief  •  February 3, 2020

Photos by Fred Hayes and Erik Philbrook

Derek Smalls, formerly of the band formerly known as Spinal Tap, presented a hilarious multimedia show and discussion highlighting his return to the rock limelight on Thursday, January 30 at the Sundance ASCAP Music Café. It was one of the final entertaining sets presented to festival audiences at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Other performers taking the stage on the final two of the festival included: Alt-country singer-songwriter and 2019 NewSong Competition winner Jobi Riccio; Steven Dayvid McKellar of the group Civil Twilight, who performed atmospheric and electronic material from his upcoming new album, ETHIO; the high-energy power-pop band Fox Wilde out of Los Angeles, and ZZ Ward, whose soulful songs have been heard in numerous commercials, TV shows and feature films, and who has launched multiple sold-out tours while also commanding the stages of such festivals as Coachella, Bonnaroo, Firefly and more.

The 2020 edition of the Sundance ASCAP Music Café presented a memorable eight days of outstanding performances as Sundance and ASCAP celebrated its 22-year partnership of celebrating the marriage of music and film at the heart of the film world’s ultimate gathering of original storytelling.

After 10 days and 128 feature films, the Sundance Film Festival’s closing ceremony honored some of this year’s most impactful and extraordinary films. ASCAP composers whose music graced many of this year’s winning films included: Bear McCreary, who scored Crip Camp, winner of the Audience Award: US Documentary; Nainita Desai, who scored The Reason I Jump, winner of The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary; Jay Wadley, who scored I Carry You With Me, winner of The Audience Award: NEXT and the NEXT Innovator Prize; Courtney Bryan, who scored The 40-Year-Old-Version, winner of The Directing Award: US Dramatic; and Alex Somers, who scored Charm City Kings, which won a US Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast.

Other ASCAP composers who worked on award-winning films include John Paesano, who scored Tesla, winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize; Amine Bouhafa (SACEM), who scored the Short Film Grand Jury Prize-winning So What If the Goats Die; Zsuzsanna Varkonyi (SACEM), who scored Epicentro, which won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary; Gustavo Santaolalla and Juan Luqui, who scored The Fight, winner of the US Documentary Special Jury Award for Social Impact Filmmaking; and Antonio Pinto, who scored Nine Days, which won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award.

Several films scored by ASCAP composers are already set to hit theaters and streaming services. Miss Americana, a documentary series about Taylor Swift scored by Alex Somers, is already available on Netflix. And Downhill, a film scored by composer Hauschka and staring Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus is scheduled to be released on Valentine’s Day.

SUNDANCE PART TWO: Nashville Songwriters Colter Wall and Barry Zito, Puerto Rico’s Lizbeth Román and LA’s Jamie Drake and The Bird and The Bee Thrill Audiences at the Sundance ASCAP Music Café

The Sundance ASCAP Music Café headed into its first full week of the Sundance Film Festival with a wide array of performers representing many different musical flavors. Nashville writers included Joe Robinson, originally from Australia who is a guitar wizard and accomplished sideman for such artists as Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and many more. Colter Wall, originally from Canada served up some authentic country and western songs made resonant by his deep baritone voice. And Barry Zito, a former major league baseball player who has found a new career as a singer-songwriter in Music City, played songs that have been placed with other artists and which have been featured in film and television.

LA’s The Bird and the Bee brought their effervescent indie-pop to the stage and performed songs from their recent tribute to Van Halen, among originals that spanned their 15-year career. Alex Lilly, who is part of The Bird and the Bee collective, also performed a set of her own electronic pop. One of LA’s best kept musical secrets, Jamie Drake, delivered a stunning set of folk songs, that evoked some of her influences, including Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins and Harry Nilsson. Lizbeth Román, who flew all the way from Puerto Rico, played songs sung in English and Spanish, and delighted the audience with her charm and infectious Latin rhythms. Stephen Kellogg, a folk-rock troubadour who has released over 17 albums and has played over 2,000 concerts in over 21 countries, played a powerful set of his poetic songs. And Ryan Miller of the band Guster, who as a composer has also scored several Sundance films, including Safety Not Guaranteed, The Fundamentals of Caring and Mr. Roosevelt, played an eclectic set, including songs he wrote for films as well as Guster songs.

With two full days of music yet to go, the 2020 installment of the Sundance ASCAP Music Café had already delivered on its promise to present some of today’s greatest music creators to festival audiences.

SUNDANCE PART ONE: Matt Berninger of The National, Ron Artis II, Cyn, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Rain Phoenix and More Create a Buzz at the Sundance ASCAP Music Café

The 2020 Sundance ASCAP Music Café kicked off on Friday, January 24with a special introduction by Peter Golub, Director of the Sundance Film Music Program and performances from a dynamic group of some of today’s most accomplished songwriters and composers. Cuban-born composer Jorge Aragón and Gene Back (formerly of the group The Books) started the day off with a beautiful set of instrumental music. The two originally met last year at the Sundance Composers Lab. Then musical force of nature Ron Artis II from Hawaii delivered a powerful solo acoustic set highlighted by masterful guitar work and deeply soulful songs that earned a standing ovation. Swedish pop singer-songwriter LÉON brought some contemporary European cool to the stage while Americana troubadour Aaron Lee Tasjan, out of Nashville, delivered a set of left-of-center songs that were by turns poignant and provocative. And Cyn, an emerging artist who is signed to Katy Perry’s record label, capped the day with a captivating set of songs, several of which will appear in film projects in 2020. Several film composers stopped by the Music Café as well including Amanda Jones, who scored this year’s Sundance short Baldwin Beauty and who also has music in the new BET series Twenties, and Bear McCreary, who scored this year’s Sundance doc Crip Camp, which was produced by Barack and Michelle Obama's new production company.

Matt Berninger of the lauded rock band The National hit the stage on Saturday, January 25 and performed songs from his upcoming solo album, Serpentine Prison. Melodic, moody and muscular, Berninger’s new songs held the Music Café audience rapt through a powerful 45 minute set. Rain Phoenix delivered a mesmerizing suite of songs from her new album, River, a tribute to her late brother River Phoenix. And Bandits on the Run, a Brooklyn collective, sang beautiful three-part harmony during their set while utilizing a variety of instruments, including cello, guitar and accordion. Returning to the stage for second performances were Artis II, who brought the house down with his band and the crowd to their feet with a blistering set of blues, rock and soul shot through with his guitar playing fireworks, and Tasjan, the acclaimed singer-songwriter-guitarist who has been winning over fans across the country with his arch lyrics and rich heartland folk and rock songs. ASCAP film composers stopping by the Café on day two to talk about their Sundance films included Alex Somers (Miss Americana, Charm City Kings) and Jay Wadley (I Carry You With Me).

Joining the festivities on Sunday, January 26 were the Ruen Brothers, a dynamic brother duo from the Northern England (currently residing in the US) who pack a musical punch with high-energy acoustic roots rock driven by train rhythms, Henry Ruen’s high-octave voice and Rupert Ruen’s rockabilly guitar work. Also on board was Joseph Arthur, a prolific singer-songwriter known for his powerfully emotional songs, his side projects with fellow musicians such as Peter Buck, Dhani Harrison and Ben Harper and Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament. And James Bourne, a songwriter who has achieved great success writing for major label artists such as The Jonas Brothers as well as highly-acclaimed musicals, performed songs from his forthcoming solo album.

The Music Café was standing room only throughout the weekend as filmmakers and music fans experienced the thrill of new musical discoveries and beloved artists in the heart of one of the world’s premiere film festivals.

On Monday night, January 27th, ASCAP hosted its annual Sundance Composer-Filmmaker Cocktail Reception at the Music Café and provided an excellent networking opportunity for this year’s creators and collaborators.

ASCAP @ Sundance Film Festival 2020

Heading to Park City this month? Meet the top-shelf talent playing our Sundance ASCAP Music Café, and get to know the composers behind this year's Festival films.

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