JHMF Songwriting Contest Inspires Originality through History

The 2014 John Hartford Memorial Festival (JHMF) Songwriting Contest has begun accepting entries, marking the start of its second year inspiring songwriters to go where they haven’t gone before. The songwriting contest is a little different than most, as it takes part in ensuring the legacy of John Hartford continues and thrives. Contest winners are awarded with a main stage performance and free 3-day festival ticket.

Many great songwriters have come and gone, but few have been groundbreaking trendsetters. John Hartford started a movement in music and this festival is a great example of the wake that has spread across the vast ocean of what we have come to call Americana music. The bands selected to perform at JHMF are encouraged to play a Hartford song or talk about his inspiration on them.

The JHMF Songwriting Contest is expanding on that and challenges entrants to write a song either about John Hartford or to mention one or more of his song titles. As a result, entrants have had to learn more about Mr. Hartford and his music. Last year’s contest was a great testimony to the power of the influence of John Hartford’s music. It was a difficult task for the judges to score the winners. The scores were very close.

The 2013 First Place winner was Scott Carnder, mandolinist for Cincinnati-based Hickory Robot, with his original song Hartford’s Bend. “I first heard the phrase while reading a Wikipedia article about John,” shared Scott. “It said his home was built along a bend in the Cumberland River and that he would radio the riverboat pilots to help them navigate the turn, so on their charts that point was labeled ‘Hartford's Bend,’” he said.

“As soon as I read the words I knew there was the title of a song. It sounded magical, a place where you could escape the worries of your day-to-day life. Much like the Grateful Dead or The Band, John could create little worlds in his songs, a mythical America still unexplored, but with John's unique and whimsical sense of wonder and joy. Hartford's Bend was my attempt to capture that spirit, that freedom,” Scott continued.

“It was a genuine honor to win the 1st John Hartford Memorial Songwriting Contest and to have even the smallest connection to John's legacy. I'm grateful to have been able to pay tribute to his music, which has brought me so much happiness and inspiration. I want to thank Will Kimble for encouraging me to enter the contest in the first place, which I'm certain I wouldn't have done otherwise, and give a huge thanks to the wonderful folks of the JHMF for the award and the opportunity to play Hartford's Bend on the main stage of Bean Blossom, where so many of my musical heroes have stood.  That was a Goodle Day,” concluded Scott.

The 2nd Place winner was Jim Clark, from Marion, IL, with his song, The Fiddle Man. “When I heard about the songwriting contest my wheels started spinning. A great excuse to get creative about a super creative guy and way back hero of mine,” Jim said. “John’s writing is what made me realize, hey, I can write what I want to write. I am my own gate keeper and maybe someone will even like it. Thanks John,” he said.

Allie Burbrink, from Bargersville, IN, guitarist and banjo picker from the band, The Whipstitch Sallies, was the 4th Place winner, with her song Carefree Gum Tree Canoe. “I have been learning more about John and his music every year that I've gone to the festival, but participating in the contest inspired me to do even more reading and listening,” Allie shared. “I had learned about his love of steamboats, and I was familiar with his cover of "Gum Tree Canoe," so I combined those ideas to write a song retelling it from a new point of view and with a steamboat-y twist at the end,” she said. “The more I listen to John's music, the more I want to try emulating his various styles but with my own twists. I am very fortunate to have been introduced to him through this festival and contest and to count him as a musical mentor, even though I never met him in person,” Allie concluded.

Katie Burk is a fiddler, songwriter, and artist from Indianapolis, and also a member of the Whipstitch Sallies. She was a top ten finalist with her song, Moving On. "Being part of the songwriting contest was a positive experience for me in several ways,” she shared.

“Researching John Hartford's songs allowed me to understand his legacy more fully, especially after getting to the festival and meeting some of his personal friends and fellow musicians. As I learned more about John Hartford and his songs, I noticed the recurring idea of living life simply as a romantic rebel with a great sense of humor. The challenge for me was to format the song and melody in the style of Hartford's songs, which is very distinct. Hartford's songs are vivid stories: a tall order for any songwriter to accomplish. I highly recommend participating in the contest,” Katie said.

Song entries are now being accepted through May 4, 2014. Anyone can enter. Tap into that creative matter of your mind, summon up the Muse and enter your original John Hartford-inspired song. Contest winners get to perform their original song on the main stage and win passes to the festival to enjoy the great line-up, including Peter Rowan, Pokey LaFarge, Pert Near Sandstone, Jamie Hartford and Friends, The Keels, Danny Barnes, The HillBenders, Hickory Robot, The Whipstitch Sallies, and many more at the legendary Bill Monroe Music Park and Campground, which is also home of the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame & Museum.

Visit the festival website at www.johnhartfordmemfest.com and click the Songwriting Contest banner for all the details. Stop by the JHMF Songwriting & Fiddle Contest page on Facebook and give us a “Like” to stay updated on the latest news.

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