Ida Clare takes 1st in inaugural John Hartford band contest

Last weekend’s 7th annual John Hartford Memorial Festival in Bean Blossom, IN included their first ever band contest. 12 bands were invited to compete, based on advance submissions, with all selected finalists appearing live on stage for judging on June 3, performing around a single microphone.

And in the end, Ida Clare from Louisville, KY came out on top winning a $1000 cash prize and a stage slot for next year’s festival. The band consists of Lea Bullock Cockrell on guitar, Jim Wheatley on mandolin, Robin Thixton on banjo, and Mark Miller on bass.

Though not one they did in the contest, here’s video of Ida Clare singing Gillian Welch’s Annabelle at a club show.

Top finishers for 2017 were:

  1. Ida Clare – Louisville, KY  $1000
  2. Tangleweed – Chicago, IL  $500
  3. Big Sadie – Chicago, IL  $300
  4. Johnny Campbell and the Bluegrass Drifters – Nashville, TN  $200

The festival also hosted a songwriting contest, as well as ones for banjo and fiddle. Here are those winners.


  1. Eleanor Hitchings – Bloomington, IN
  2. Emma Wilkie – Louisville, KY
  3. Nolan Strupeck – La Point, IN (6 years old)


  1. Marc Harris – Cincinnati, OH
  2. Elvin Dechard – Bloomington, IN
  3. Tyler Frank – St Louis, MO


  1. Gone Too Soon by Micahlan Boney – Claxton, GA
  2. Carry Him Home by Aubrey Eisenman – Asheville, NC
  3. Joanne Revisited by Scott Nelson – Noblesville, IN
  4. Gone Lonesome Gone by John Bowyer – Bloomington, IN
  5. Roll Julia Belle by Joshua Pitcher – East Peoria, IL
  6. A Memory by Marty Hopkins – Salem, SC
  7. Paddlewheel by Tom Poley – Tucson, AZ
  8. Hear His Banjo Play by Johnny Plott – Indianapolis, IN
  9. My Soul Bleeds Music by Josh Moody – Middle Valley, OH
  10. Are There Hillbilly Bands in Heaven by Kevin T. Hale – Westlake Village, CA

Congratulations to all the winners!


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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.