I finally made the acquaintance of Dena, who founded Philly Songwriters, and sat with her. I've talked to some other people around the country about the sorts of local groups they have. There are several "songwriter" circles in places, certainly some good supportive organizations; there are also organizations that seem to have been set up for the benefit of the founders. This is about as positive an example as you could find. Dena really is looking to give local voices a showcase, a chance to develop their sound, and to have people learn from each other.
The first act was Lee Whitaker, a folk singer with a solid presence and a strong folkie voice. His songs are plainspoken and he is one of those people who can really make his guitar "talk." He ran into a gentleman who played the harmonica, and who joined him on stage -- despite never having heard the songs before. You couldn't tell, he slipped right in.
The second act was The Lyra Project, a male-female duo who fell somewhere in the area between AAA and Adult Contemporary, with a spiritual pop bent. (Yes, tough to describe). Their sound was just perfect for a lyric I had on my site, and they've invited me to come to their studio next month to work on it with them.
Finally, a sister act, The Jones Girls, who sang lyrical songs about "mean boys" and who have trouble naming their songs, did a set. They are among the finalists for the Philly Songwriters contest next week, so I'll get to hear them again.
There's a lot of talent and lots of nice people out there....