Gene Burnett loves songs. He loves to write them, sing them and share them with the world.
Visit his website, www.geneburnett.com, and discover an almost overwhelming stockpile of material. The site offers 28 full-length albums, all available as — get this — free downloads. Burnett doesn't want commerce standing between his songs and his audience.
After honing his songwriting for decades on the fringes of big-city music scenes in Chicago, New York City and Seattle, Burnett decided he'd had enough. He quit the music business to concentrate on music.
"I decided to return to my folk roots and make all my music as free as possible and see what comes freely back," Burnett says.
What has come back so far is a little bit of money (he equipped his website with a virtual tip jar), some good gigs and many great friends. Between the website and his well-maintained YouTube channel, the 55-year-old songwriter and tai chi instructor feels he's reached a larger audience than during his previous 30 years of performing.
Burnett will perform at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4, at Liquid Assets, 96 N. Main St., Ashland.
Before realizing that he hated the music business, Burnett pursued his career in fits and starts. After a cycle of pushing for good gigs and recognition, he'd burn out and quit — or try to quit, anyway.
He could never block out the siren song of open-mic sessions. Small communities of singers, songwriters and poets that coalesce around a weekly open mic consistently reminded him of why he loved music.
Sometime in 2005, Burnett walked into Thom Little's long-running, Sunday-night open mic at The Wild Goose Cafe & Bar in Ashland and discovered a kindred spirit.
"Thom's was the best open-mic host I've ever seen," Burnett says. "We all wanted him to hear our new stuff."
Inspired by Little and the creative scene he fostered, Burnett returned to music with a vengeance. This time around, however, he was determined to strip away everything except the parts that he truly loved: the songs and the pure joy of singing them.
This shift in perspective must have freed something in Burnett because it ushered in a period of staggering productivity. Over the next four years, he produced 12 full-length albums of new material.
Although his pace has slowed somewhat, Burnett continues writing new tunes at a rate that fills two to three albums per year.
For more than a year, he's hosted his own open-mic session the first Wednesday of every month at The Wild Goose. Burnett's is no ordinary session, however. His are theme related, letting musicians focus on various topics when performing their material.
February's theme is "Love Songs," and March will feature "Songs With Numbers in Them."
"I'm always hoping that people will come and tear into the theme," Burnett says. "It's not about advancing your career. It's folks hanging out and playing music."
The themed sessions also provide opportunities for performers to select songs they might not otherwise play, giving the sessions an off-the-cuff vibe.
Part of the fun is hearing dubious chains of logic justifying a seemingly unconnected song to make it vaguely relevant to the night's theme.
"We're not narrow on the themes," Burnett says. "I'd rather have someone show up and play something that doesn't even fit the theme than to not play at all."
Burnett's next open mic, themed "Love Songs," will be Wednesday, Feb. 6, at The Wild Goose, 2365 Ashland St. Sign-ups begin at 7:30 p.m.