Department Article
In the eyes of his daughter and lots of other kids in the area,
Chip Withrow is something of a folk hero

by Beth Luberecki

It’s another beautiful day in Southwest Florida, and Chip Withrow is sitting on a stool with guitar in hand, entertaining the attendees of an open house at the Lee County Alliance for the Arts. With his hair pulled back in a ponytail, trim beard, cargo shorts, and sandals, he’s the very picture of a laid-back dude, and it’s not surprising to learn that he’s a fan of artists like the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan.

Like these musical giants, Withrow, too, has a flock of adoring fans in front of him. But instead of beautiful women or happy hippies, Withrow’s fans are of the pint-sized variety, toddlers and preschoolers jumping and twirling to the tunes he’s playing.

And that’s just fine with him. The Fort Myers singer/songwriter specializes in “folk rock for groovin’ families,” and his songs tend to focus more on subjects like stuffed animals and pajamas than on love and longing.

These types of shows “are my favorite kinds of things to do,” says Withrow. “I like the shows where I can play music and tell stories. I can tell the kids are enjoying it, because they’re dancing, but the adults are singing along with some songs too. I like the shows where the parents seem to be getting into it too.” And when he sees that they are, he’s sure to throw in some tunes for them, like “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver and “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley.

Withrow has played the piano since he was about eight years old, and the guitar since his early teens, but he never really played for an audience until he was in his 20s, and he didn’t start writing songs until about five years ago, when he and his family moved to Fort Myers. “In my late 20s, I was living in Cincinnati and I would perform every now and then,” says the forty-three-year-old Ohio native. “It was something I thought I’d like to do more of, and when we moved here, I decided I should start doing it, since I wasn’t getting any younger.”

His performances were at first mainly for adults, as were the few folk songs he’d tried his hand at penning. “I had tried writing songs when I was a lot younger, maybe right out of college,” he says. “When I moved here I just decided to start doing it again. There wasn’t any one thing that led me to do it. These ideas just started coming to me.”

Many of those ideas came from his now seven-year-old daughter Josie and helped steer him toward writing and performing for kids and their families. “I don’t know if I’d be doing the kind of music I do if I had any kid other than the kid I have exactly right now; that’s how inspiring and how influential she has been,” says Withrow. “I very directly ask her for ideas. And I’ve written songs for my nieces and nephews and songs that I think would be good universal lessons for everybody. A lot of these songs came about because these are things I wanted to teach to my own daughter, and she loves music so much.”

So Withrow’s first children’s album, Everyday Things, is filled with tunes like “We Love to Share,” “Mismatched Socks,” and “Where the Red Ball Goes,” an ode to the setting sun. “And I have a bunch of songs I’ve written that are really observations from when I was growing up,” says Withrow. “I would say some of those songs are even more geared toward parents, in a way maybe someone like John Prine writes songs about childhood experiences and looking back at them many years later.”

These days, Withrow can be found performing all over Southwest Florida, at festivals, libraries, schools, and other spots. Some of these shows are adult-oriented, but most are family friendly and can draw a crowd.

“He’s so down to earth, that’s what I like about him,” says Bill Metts, a local folk/blues singer and guitarist who’s shared the stage with Withrow several times. “Some of his children’s songs I just find really delightful. His songs really do speak of everyday things and have nice melodies; it’s easy listening for kids and adults.”

“What’s cool about the kind of stuff Chip is doing is you can listen to it as an adult,” says Eric Jackson, a local musician who sang backup on Withrow’s album and who has worked with him on other projects. “They’re some playful, fun kids’ songs, but as an adult you won’t go crazy listening to them over and over again.”

“When I first started writing these kids’ songs, I told myself I was not going to dumb anything down for the kids,” says Withrow. “Even in some of the simpler songs I try to throw in some unusual vocabulary. As simple as the songs are, I want parents and grandparents and, really, adults in general to like them too.”

And what’s not to like about a song that celebrates wearing your pajamas all day (especially during these somewhat depressing times)? “The biggest thing about Chip’s music is that it’s fun,” says Jackson. “It’s not like he’s a dark artist or a folk artist who wants to lament about all these things in the world. He’s fun.”

Withrow brings that sense of fun into the classroom as a journalism teacher at Ida S. Baker High School in Cape Coral. He’s even started developing lesson plans based on his songs. Right now, the plans are geared toward younger students, but he hopes to broaden them to include high school students. “One of these days,” he says. “I just have so much going on.”

That includes his work on a new kids’ CD, which, like his first, he’s recording at home. “It was originally going to be called Brother Bird, one of the songs on it,” Withrow says. “But my wife and daughter really want it to be called My Dad’s a Hippie.” He’s also kicking around the idea of offering song-writing classes for adults and is learning how to play the banjo.

But despite the fact that music is such a major part of Withrow’s life, making it his full-time career remains a dream, at least for now. “If I could make a living doing it, I would,” he says. “We’ve talked about trying it and it would be a risk; it would take a huge amount of bravery. But I think I get so much material and so much energy out of teaching that I have an almost ideal balance right now. And I’m a good lesson for my students, that here is an adult who holds down a day job and has a family but also never gave up on this passion that I have.”

For more information about Chip Withrow, visit his Web site at

Beth Luberecki is a Venice, Florida–based freelance writer and an editor for Times of the Islands and RSW Living.