By Nikki Hedrick
Until recently, Will Thompson could be found performing around Panama City and putting the finishing touches on the inaugural Panama City Songwriters Festival. Like many of our neighbors to the east, Hurricane Michael impacted those plans.
Thompson and his family are temporarily calling Gulf Place home, and the inaugural event had to be postponed due to many of participating venues experiencing substantial storm-related damage.
“We’re talking with venues right now,” says Thompson of festival’s prospects for 2019. “Even the Martin Theatre, which was one of our bigger facilities, has to have two million dollars in roof and repair work done on it…where I’m at now is just making sure the venues will be good to go and repaired by the time that November rolls around so I can go ahead and start scheduling and booking back in these artists that I had.”
Thompson hopes to maintain much of the originally planned lineup for the 2019 event. “I thought it represented a really, really good balance of songwriters and styles.”
The Panama City Songwriters Festival promotes an open, online submission process, followed by a panel of respected community members aiding in the decision of who receives an invitation. Thompson emphasizes that he wants a fair process that gives locals an opportunity to perform alongside top regional names.
Coming from a family of musicians, Thompson says his journey with music began “a little force fed.”
“I’m thankful for now, because I wanted to quit numerous times playing the piano. Piano was the first instrument that my mom really got me involved in when I was six or seven. I was like, ‘I don’t want to practice.’ I was like every other kid in America.
“As time went on, I, of course, loved it, and it’s been a vital, vital, vital part of who I am and how I write and what I do. I would always enjoy it, but I liked to just pick up instruments around the home and play them. There’d be a trumpet over here or a bassoon or a clarinet. We had tons of instruments all the time.”
Thompson’s first taste of studio life occurred when he tagged along with his professional trumpet player uncle. “I would spend summers in L.A.. That’s when I started really getting serious about it—when I saw how it all works and I just fell in love with it.
“We would go out to the studios and he’d sneak me in. I was his trumpet holder. I don’t know how many movies I’ve watched him perform the music for. I remember particularly one time we were in L.A., and he was doing Young Guns II. I didn’t have my glasses on, so I couldn’t see, but I see this red shiny guitar in the left-hand side of the room with this orchestra. I was like, ‘Dude I want to go over there and kind of check that out.’ I never did because I just felt like sitting down, and we were leaving after the session was over. He’s like, ‘Hey man, did you go talk to Bon Jovi?’
“It was fun stuff like that growing up, where it was bigger than the world and it inspired you. That’s how it all kind of came around with trumpet—started playing trumpet, started playing guitar, filling in on bass and stuff.”
After a stint in college where Thompson considered becoming a music teacher, he found himself with an interesting offer. “I dropped out to go sing with one of my idols at the time, Brian McKnight. Then when I had the chance to sign contracts, it never felt right. Wasn’t the thing that I needed to do at the time.
“It just kind of transitioned, like all these weird events kind of just led me to this path of okay, I’m going to have to do this for myself. I was actually done with all the music industry side of it. I thought it would just be a hobby, do it in my living room and have fun with it. Pass it on with my kids, but I met a guy a couple years ago, he heard me singing and wanted me to get more involved.”
That chance meeting gave Thompson the creative freedom to write and sing the songs that he is the most enthused about. “Let’s make something that means something, and let’s make things that we’re happy about that are timeless to pass on to your kids. Your kids will be proud of it.”
Thompson plans to explore and perform throughout the region, and a new single, “One of These Days,” and accompanying video are set to be released in early 2019.
He has a very relaxed view on success. “We’ll see what happens. The only thing I know to do now is just keep throwing music out there and see if it sticks somewhere. If it does great…if it doesn’t, you just keep writing and keep doing the songs that you enjoy.”