In what's turned into a musical rite of spring, singers and songwriters will return to Cape May this weekend.
Singer-Songwriter of Cape May, a two-day festival of live music, workshops, and panel discussions, mark its 10th year at the Jersey Shore on Friday and Saturday.
John Harris, director of the conference, said it had evolved over the last decade.
"We started out with about 100 acts in 2008," said Harris, who grew up in Havertown and graduated from Monsignor Bonner High School in 1969. "Now, we go between 130 and 180 acts, depending on how many venues agree to participate. I think we're at 146 [acts] in 2017."
Performers will come from 14 states, as well as from D.C. and Australia.
Harris, of Harrisburg, who has managed artists and concert venues, started the Millennium Music Conference and Showcase in Harrisburg in 1997. He felt the Jersey Shore also could support a conference.
"We wanted to kick off spring in Cape May when room rates were affordable for musicians and the weather might cooperate," he said. He credits Patrick Logue, vice president of operations at Cape Resorts, for his support.
"I consider Patrick to be a cofounder, because he visited my conference in Harrisburg a decade ago to discuss putting together an event for Cape May," Harris said.
Doreen Talley, marketing director of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May, says the conference has provided an economic boost for the region. "Total revenue for that weekend is about 50 to 60 percent higher over a normal winter weekend," she estimated.
The historic Congress Hall hosts the workshops and panel discussions; performances are held there and at more than a dozen other spots, including Carney's, the Mad Batter Restaurant & Bar, and the Ugly Mug.
All shows are free except for the Friday- and Saturday-evening concerts headlined by keynote speakers Jim Boggia and Jonatha Brooke at the Grand Ballroom at Congress Hall. The sites are within walking distance, allowing visitors to check out the wide range of performers, Harris noted.
What will Brooke discuss in her speech? "It's a secret," she said with a laugh in a phone interview.
Turning serious, she added, "I'll be speaking about being mobile and covering all your bases." Brooke, who has recorded and toured as a member of the Story and as a solo act over the last 25 years, said flexibility and adaptability were necessary for artists.
It's advice she has followed. She recently staged My Mother Has 4 Noses, a one-woman show about dealing with her mother's dementia, and is now touring to promote Midnight. Hallelujah., her latest album.
"You have to figure out social media in an age where people don't want to pay for music," she said. She cites artists using fund-raising sites that allow fans to finance the recording of new music.
Boggia, in a separate interview, said his speech would address songwriting. "It centers on the meaning and language that's built into your songs that doesn't come from the lyrics, and the idea of listening with your central nervous system in order to identify that language and meaning," he said.
"It will be zippy and have laughs," Boggia, of Philadelphia, promised.
He agreed that social media and the growth of streaming and downloading music had altered his approach after more than 20 years in the business.
"The major thing it's changed, particularly for independent artists, is it almost entirely flipped the order of when you make, promote, and sell the album," he said. "Things used to go in that order. Now, with everyone crowdsourcing to make their album, you're essentially doing the selling up front, and then promoting it before and during the making of the record."
Harris sees challenge and opportunity for musicians and hopes Singer-Songwriter of Cape May can provide guidance and encouragement.
"The whole paradigm of the music industry is in constant change," he said. "The digital age and demise of the record label have opened opportunities for emerging talent to create a career in the industry. The conference is designed to educate and energize."