This year’s bleak bluegrass festival season left both musicians and festival lovers disappointed. While bluegrass fans held out hope that late summer and fall festivals might not have to cancel, one by one festival promoters all reached the same conclusion, large social gatherings were just too risky. Podunk Bluegrass Festival held annually at the Goshen Fairgrounds in Goshen, CT, met the same fate as the others. In early June, Podunk’s promoters made the call and postponed their festival to 2021. However, one thing that they did not cancel was their annual songwriting contest.
As she has done in years past, contest facilitator, Myrna Riquier, sent out competition invitations to song writing organizations across the country, and in the IBMA newsletter. Given the unusual circumstances forced upon them by COVID, and to encourage writers to participate, Riquier says that they waived the normal twenty-five-dollar entrance fee. Much like in other years, the competition drew submissions from over the United States, including all of New England, New York, Texas, Idaho, Ne Mexico, Utah, and Tennessee, among others.
Each song is judged by four adjudicators who rank each song according to a list of specific criteria including, uniqueness of melody, melody likeability, uniqueness of story line, and lyric quality. Ultimately, if after listening to the tune the judges wake up the next morning humming the melody line, there is a good chance that that song will be a winner. A perfect song would get 90 points, but Riquier says that so far, no song has ever attained that high a score. This year, first, second, and third place song writing winners all come from the West.
First-place went to Boyd Timothy of Highland, Utah with his song, Pines of Caroline. Having grown up in Utah with little exposure to bluegrass music, it was not till he was an adult that he began to explore bluegrass’s birthplace and long cultural history in the East. Pines of Carolines many references to traditional bluegrass images, hint at his own longing to immerse himself in a world of traditional bluegrass.
As the winner, Boyd may just be able to fulfill that longing. In addition to being awarded two hundred dollars and a festival t-shirt, Boyd also received a premium ticket to Podunk’s 2021 festival. He plans on attending. It is then that he will hear his winning song performed on Podunk’s main stage, and he can pick all night with other bluegrass lovers.
In second place the judges chose Bluebonnet Blue, a ballad written by Jerry Johnston of Ft. Worth, Texas. Third place went to Paul Kelly of Santa Fe, NM and co-writer Buddy Guido of Mohawk, NY for their song Word of Mouth.
The next Podunk songwriting contest gets underway November 1, 2020 with an April 30, 2021 entry deadline. Rules for the competition are at the Podunk website.
Like all of us who attend this much loved festival, the Podunk Board of Directors and their dedicated staff of volunteers are all looking forward to what they hope will once again be a busy festival season on both coasts next year, and everywhere in between.