Melissa Joiner has quickly become a recognizable name in the area. She helps produce events, is an in-demand solo artist, and as of September is the new lead vocalist for New Earth Army.
She came of age along the Gulf Coast and her father played in a band, so music was never far. “I grew up going to the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival and watching my dad play,” she says.
Joiner started out in her high school’s marching band as a saxophone player but after singing in church, the drive to use her voice came naturally. “I would sing the songs that my dad and his band wrote, and I’d get kicked out of practice because I talked to much. The second I could do choir I jumped at it. In choir, you sing all these songs and foreign language pieces. I was the first freshman to make it to advanced choir and had lead roles in the opera. I really loved it and was excited.”
Her talent as an opera performer earned her a college scholarship, which she parlayed into a music education degree. After college she struggled to find a teaching position and landed a waiting job that would alter her plans. “Bands would come in, and I was like, Man, if they can do it, I can do it.” Armed with what Joiner calls a “crappy old guitar,” she began playing non-stop. Fueled by some disparaging words, she spent an entire summer honing her music chops to prove she could do it.
It was during this time Joiner met Nick Biebricher, and the two created the Gulf Coast Songwriter Shootout, a songwriter competition that stretches six weeks and this year includes 50 participants. “I helped him create the shootout,” she says. “He helped me learn how to gig. At that time I only knew maybe two chords, I didn’t know what a set list really was or anything. We really helped each other.”
The Gulf Coast Songwriter Shootout is in its third year and has left a mark on Joiner as an artist. “The Songwriter Shootout is what gave me confidence to be a songwriter and made me realize that there is a whole other life and world in which people supported original music. It was because of Nick and a couple other people that I really kind of hit the ground running.”
Joiner credits discovering 30A Songwriter Radio with helping her form roots in the Florida Panhandle. “I found myself loving it and wanting to be there more than I was wanting to be in Alabama. I told myself that if I could book enough gigs to move there I would. So I booked up all these gigs in Florida, and I call Florida home now.”
Joining New Earth Army started with a single moment of happenstance. “I just finished a gig and (NEA guitarist) Chavis (Hobbs) has a big ol’ kayak paddle up against his car door and I thought it was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen and I wanted to get a picture of it.” That led to an introduction and conversation between the two, although Ben Parsons had already talked to Hobbs about Joiner. Hobbs quickly saw an opportunity.
“Then about a week later, I don’t know how it really happened, but it came up that they were looking for a singer,” says Joiner. “I started filling in a few times, and now I’m their singer.”
Joiner is new to being in a band but is excited about the opportunity. “It’s so weird not having a guitar in my hands,” she admits. “I’m so tall and awkward. I don’t know what to do with my hands. I’m up there, and I feel naked. But I’m coming into it, and have a lot of fun up there.”
The merging includes Joiner learning existing NEA songs, NEA transcribing Joiner’s songs for a full band, and everyone writing new material together.
She’s also working towards another goal, starting a nonprofit to raise funds for kids who can’t afford musical instruments. “I started these events to learn how it all works,” Joiner says of her Songs that Save concert series. She produces multiple events each year benefiting various causes across the Gulf Coast.
And if that isn’t keeping her busy enough, Joiner is starting up a travel blog with fellow musician Dannica Marie (a/k/a Dannica Lowery, Danni Coyote, Schatzi, etc.) called JetPlane Gypsies. The two are hopeful they can expand into larger projects.
“I’ve always been searching for a home,” says Joiner. “And I think Santa Rosa Beach is the closest thing I’ve had to that.”
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