Gulf Coast Sound and Screen
Three music and film professionals work the ropes of the entertainment industry from the heart of Baldwin County.
South Alabama is establishing a reputation in show business that is recognizable not only to locals but to prominent figures in the music and film industries as well. Meet Scott Lumpkin, Anthony Crawford and Trina Shoemaker, three entertainment maestros who developed their skills amongst the country’s best and brought their passion and know-how back to the Sweet Home to stand out alongside the greats.
ABOVE Scott Lumpkin perches in front of an authentic traveling banner painted for P.T. Barnum that hangs on the prop room wall, one of innumerable prized pieces found in the building at Skate Mountain Records. Lumpkin prefers to unwind by skateboarding on the small ramp situated at Skate Mountain. Jimmy Lumpkin and the Red Clay Strays are two of the many musicians that work with the label.
Bringing Hollywood to the Gulf Coast is a thrilling adventure for Fairhope-native film producer Scott Lumpkin. He spends his days shuffling between shooting films, reading scripts, meeting clients in his Daphne studio and transporting out-of-town crew to and from the airport — and that’s just on a normal day. His schedule is hectic, with four hours of sleep on the floor or the loft in his studio on a typical day, but it fits his work style and keeps his ever-active mind alert and at the ready.
Lumpkin spent his early career on location in Los Angeles, New York and other big-name movie cities — with big-name clips to prove it. He’s credited in films such as “Safe Haven,” “Before I Wake,” “Oculus” and “The Foreigner,” the latter making him the first American to release a film in the U.S. and China at the same time. Now, he produces films from Fairhope to Gulf Shores and within Mobile’s city limits.
The charm of the Alabama coast attracts filmmakers and audiences alike, which brings excitement to the area and leaves an impression on those who work here. Lumpkin credits local filmmaking success to civic leaders and official outreach initiatives that advance the industry.
“I find thrill in the buzz of the town,” he says about the feedback he receives when a movie is in town. “Not overly starstruck, because it’s not. [People are] pretty courteous and cool and they get it.” His favorite result is when producers, directors or other movie crew experience the area and then want to come back. “There are quite a few people that we’ve brought ... that have bought houses and stayed.”
Lumpkin’s wife, Kate, also kick-started her career in film, with her background focused in sound operation and his in production. Working together in their hometown of Fairhope was a natural progression of their careers and love of place, which led them to their Daphne film office and music production company, Skate Mountain Records.
Autographed skateboards, personalized film paraphernalia, props and high-quality equipment decorate the space. A half-pipe in the dead center of the building provides a relaxing atmosphere to have fun in the midst of handling business, recording and filming. “It’s kind of a mix of our worlds together,” says Lumpkin, who combined “Scott” and “Kate” for a deeper personal meaning. “And it’s a play on skateboarding. It just seemed to work.”
Skateboarding is his favorite escape. Just as he skated around Fairhope as a child, he now rolls the streets with his five children, ranging from ages 19 to 8, in tow. He wants to raise them in the community that built him, while simultaneously developing that community to realize its full potential. He believes that the community that he was raised in is malleable enough to accommodate the industry he thrives in. “Let’s not talk about being a big fish in a small pond,” he says, “let’s grow the dang pond.”
The treasure of the opportunity to do the job that you love in the home that you never want to leave is not lost on Lumpkin. Friends that surrounded him growing up now work alongside him in the film industry, as small-town kids from Alabama making a living in the big leagues. He hopes to leave a legacy in music and film that resonates with larger audiences, but he remains humbled that the life he lives is his reality, even away from the bright lights of Hollywood.
“I’m sitting here with a guy who just won an Oscar, laughing and telling jokes and talking about our kids and other projects that we want to do, in south Alabama,” says Lumpkin. “That’s cool!”
For him, the process of realizing his visions is like solving one giant puzzle. Reading a script is only the beginning — coming up with the big idea, putting it together, finding funding and creating the production are steps that culminate in the final product. His ideas and creations are never-ending, and they must be produced in the moment before they’re lost with the wind. Because of that diligence, luckily for us, he perseveres.
ABOVE Anthony Crawford plays in the Admiral Bean, the colorful private studio that Sugarcane Jane records in tucked away in a small shack on the family’s property.
Touring as a backing musician, producing solo records and reaching for success with hit-makers defined Anthony Crawford’s past, but his life passion of being a father of three defines his future. He spent years touring with the likes of Neil Young, Dwight Yoakum and Steve Winwood. Now recording, producing and performing with wife Savana Lee as duo Sugarcane Jane, his new focus is raising his children — Loretta, 7; Levon, 5; and Dusty, 2 — in the heart of the South.
“Success to me is not making a lot of money or having everybody in the world know about me. I don’t think that that’s any part of what we’re doing,” says Crawford. “Success, to me, starts with those children.”
Crawford has found that success in the most unconventional of ways. A jack-of-all-trades instrumentalist, music is within him, whether he’s on stage or plucking guitar strings in his Loxley living room. The Crawfords’ personal studio, the Admiral Bean, disguises itself as a small shed on their home’s 2,400 acre plot of family land; however, hidden inside is a mystically colorful full-production studio. Crawford and Lee offer a full range of services to music clients: designing graphics, developing websites and creating media attention. They also produce their personal records there, right in their own backyard.
Crawford and Lee choose not to attach themselves to a genre, because they enjoy incorporating multiple styles into their music. Most label them as Americana, but they feel that their music and lyric choices are too positive for the genre. “Our name Sugarcane Jane alone suggests that we’re lighthearted,” says Crawford, and that attitude is reflected in their down-home harmonic sound with lyrics of hope and feel-good positivity. It also emanates in their tracks with Willie Sugarcapps, a dynamic group comprised of members Will Kimbrough, Corky Hughes, Sugarcane Jane and Grayson Capps.
Getting to that point of making music from home is no small feat. Summer months of festivals and gigs, coupled with creating records and shooting videos, generally transition into slow winter months that make the career a gamble. A life in the music business is one of hardship, trial and error, and the effort that takes is not lost on the couple.
“I thought that success was this thing that would just come find me,” says Crawford. “I didn’t know that you have to work for success. I thought that because I worked for successful people, the osmosis of that would make me famous. I think that having fame as a goal is just not good. That’s what I’ve learned.”
Lee agrees. “People ask us all the time, how do you do it? Because they see our schedule and we have the kids. I’ll tell you what, it’s nothing more than hard work. It’s not easy. We work our butts off. There’s no way around it.”
Breaking into the industry with a good product is an important step in developing a music career, but building relationships within the industry is crucial for establishing a place and a name in the community. Buzz Cason is a crucial partner and friend for the duo who brought their music to the forefront. The renowned artist and producer is known for his songwriting, backing work with Elvis Presley and Kenny Rogers, and recording with Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard and Olivia Newton-John, among countless other accolades. His guidance brought prestige to Sugarcane Jane and taught them skills essential to the work that they do in their home studio.
“I think that in the music business, if you find one really good friend that is truly a believer in you, you are a very fortunate person,” says Crawford. “I even have a lyric in one of my songs that says, ‘If you have one good friend who has your back, then you have more than most, and that’s a fact, Jack.’”
Supporters of the group can usually find them playing in venues throughout the Gulf Coast. Their down-home, up-tempo style attracts audiences from all walks of life, and they prefer it that way. They would choose an early show at the beach over a midnight show in Europe, because at heart, the two are homebodies raising their family with love.
“In a way, I could try to make stuff up to make it sound fantastic, but it’s kind of a boring life when it comes to making some kind of flashy statement,” says Crawford. “Ultimately, we have what we have and we’re known for being a family-first group.”
ABOVE When Trina Shoemaker isn’t working from home, she mixes offsite at Dauphin Street Sound in Mobile. Her T-shirt shows off her love of horses.
Labeling herself a Gulf Coast resident despite her upbringing in Illinois, producer and sound designer Trina Shoemaker resonates with the swampy, hot humidity of the coastal landscape. Indeed, humidity is a primal element of Shoemaker’s approach to music: The languid speed with which it fills the air; the all-encompassing way it surrounds the city; the unavoidable effect that it has on everything it touches.
“Out of all the other enchanted places,” she says about the sultry locale she now calls home, “I’m most enchanted by the Gulf.”
The allure of the Alabama coast drew Shoemaker in just as it draws artists whom she records. She regularly works with songwriters at the Frog Pond Sunday Social and brings hitmakers such as Rodney Crowell to the Gulf Coast, but it wasn’t always that way. Her original production roots were transplanted from big city to small town.
Shoemaker’s career sprouted in New Orleans, under the guidance of Mark Howard at Kingsway Studio. She emphasizes that he taught her everything that she knows about mixing, and she credits her success to his ongoing mentoring and friendship. The same city where she built her career is also where here life changed when she met and married singer-songwriter Grayson Capps. When Hurricane Katrina hit their New Orleans home, they evacuated for good to his hometown.
Now, her home studio is tucked away in Fairhope, with a secondary mixing studio located in downtown Mobile at Jake and Luke Peavy’s Dauphin Street Sound. Industry professionals discovering a mix room in Fairhope, Alabama, turns heads and draws attention from big cities to the small town.
“That is one small spark that goes out into the world, that music happens here,” says Shoemaker. “I’m part of the thrum of activity and that attracts more people,” contributing to the industry and advancing the area.
Shoemaker balances business with her personal life. She and Capps have a 13-year-old son, Waylon, the one constant that brings them back to Fairhope by the end of the day no matter what’s going on in their work lives. She gives back to the community through her love of horses and philanthropy. These are the things that keep her grounded when her mind is constantly racing through song. But her commitment to the craft also gives her peace and purpose.
“Thirty-two years I’ve been in the music business; I’ve been recording music for 28 of them. It’s my constant, it’s what I know how to do,” she says. “I love consoles, I love gear, when I’m lonely or hurt all I want is the console. When I can’t talk, I have to just go to the console.”
Her Grammy awards sit on her mixing table as a reminder of her accomplishments she takes pride in — two as an engineer for Sheryl Crow and a third as a mixer for Steven Curtis Chapman. But as it turns out, producing music, even for illustrious stars, does not ensure wealth and fame.
“I’ve worked on records that have sold millions of copies,” she says. “I’ve worked on records that have made many people very wealthy, and I have made a good living but I have never been in the position where I was able to make millions, too. It’s just the reality.”
Even without the life of luxury of other people in her position, in other places, Shoemaker favors the Gulf Coast over anywhere else she could reside.
“There’s an enchantment going on here,” she repeats for emphasis. “It needs to be nurtured and it also needs to be respected. We need our community and we need this community here to never feel left out. We are going to make it our business to nurture what we have and then send that out into the world so people then want to come here and get some of that on them and in them in their record. That’s it in a nutshell.”Edit Module