When Florence Dore was eight years old, her mother pulled her out of her third-grade class at a Catholic school in Nashville to go catch a set from Johnny Cash at Opryland. Two decades and some change later, Dore no longer has to play hooky to indulge her love of rough-and-tumble Americana. Instead, she's turned the classroom into a concert hall. Well, sort of.
A singer-songwriter who doubles as a professor of American literature at Kent State, Dore launched a songwriter's seminar at the university this semester, in which students learn about the history of a variety of artists and how to shape and craft their own songs. Then, each week, they perform their material in front of fellow classmates. When we visited the class on a recent Tuesday afternoon, the mix of students and musical styles was fun and diverse. An aspiring gospel singer decked out in jeans and Timberlands waxed eloquent about James Brown before giving way to a goateed rocker who recounted the wild times of honky-tonk hellion Jerry Lee Lewis. A waifish, sparrow-like songstress talked up the Beach Boys, while a scruffy boheme praised the Velvet Underground.
Some of the fruits of the course will be on hand at the Beachland Ballroom Thursday, when Dore hosts Songwriters in the Round, an intimate show with Chicago folkster Jim Roll and Louisiana singer-poet Kevin Gordon, who dropped in on Dore's class to share his input. With Dore playing material she's honed in the classroom as well as selections from her wounded, wonderful debut, Perfect City -- a blend of muted, affecting songcraft, hailed everywhere from alt-country bible No Depression to The New York Times -- the night promises to be both entertaining and instructive. Don't be tardy.
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