First of all thanks for sharing in the love of the craft of songwriting.
I’m one of the 12 finalist in the 2010 SongCircle Contest on the way home. Actually, I’m stuck in a Megabus seat that won’t stay in the upright position joined by a cranky cramped lady behind me who thinks I should either fix the seat or not lean back for the rest of the trip. So what better time to relieve some suffering by sitting upright to tally my costs and benefits for the trip to the 2010 SongCircle Contest? Well here we have it–two days off work; 248.15$ for travel, food, and lodging; 80$ for tickets; and a growing number people from Pittsburgh who think I have suddenly moved to Philadelphia!
All for what? I’ll just say that it was the best business opportunity I’ve ever been given as a writer to date and I am honored to have been chosen to perform before the panel of judges and the audience at the City Winery stage this past Thursday. To answer the bigger question of what it was all about for me, I hereby announce my personal Top 5 of the 2010 SongCircle Contest.
1.Barnaby Bright– And we have liftoff! The chorus to Barnaby Bright’s winning song “Don’t Look Down” absolutely electrified the 350 capacity City Winery on Thursday. Becky and Nathan were the only ones on stage, but what we heard was a brilliant six part arrangement of main vocal, backing vocal, harmonium, guitar, foot percussion, and hand/guitar percussion. Nathan used the entire guitar by basically playing two guitar parts in rhythm all over the neck in multiple voicings with the addition of hand tap and foot stomp percussion. Becky’s voice was searing and powerful over her well chosen chords on the harmonium. I might not have heard some of the words to their song I felt every one of them. When their chorus took flight the effect was visceral–instead of tapping my foot and singing I was pumping my fist and cheering. Their Thursday night performance was all at once daring, brilliant, and victorious.
2.Lucius--These beautiful Brooklyn-ites came out in full force on Friday for their song “Shenandoah” with bright full-hearted choruses and a big beat. Backed up by a killer percussionist/singer and a guitarist, their performance was totally mesmerizing. Most tellingly, the chorus melody is so aggressively catchy that I am still singing it two days later (and I don’t mind at all). It just so happens that its ascending 1/2/3/5 pattern is similar to that of the winning chorus of “Don’t Look Down.”
3.Garland Jeffreys–Garland’s twice repeated advice to “Keep writing,” has a certain poignancy in a time when everything from booking, fundraising, promotions, graphic design, recording, and production can easily fall on the shoulders of the undiscovered artist and writer. After opening the show with his tune “35mm Dream” he followed up with a bare-bones rendition of the Beatles’ song “Help.” His gritty and crooning vocals and down tempo treatment revealed the elegant blues structure and a lyrical sincerity that was lost in the Beatles’ version. Very cool.
4.Caleb Hawley–Caleb rocked the house with a killer performance of his great big hopeful song “The Other Side of It All.” His verses were wise and well phrased to match an intricately wound melody. You absolutely must go see this guy live because his guitar work is impeccable and his vocals are seriously amazing. He totally delivered.
5.Todd Alsup–Todd was the best male singer in the room hands down as well as one of the strongest performers. For his first round on Thursday, he sat down to his piano and commented, “Nice room huh?” then did a double take and shot his eyebrows up to the audience causing a ripple of laughter throughout the room. Todd then proceeded to dismantle the house with his neo-soul confessional “How I’m Made” which featured a litany of gargantuan vocal and piano riffs. This man rocks.
Although Friday was the 20th anniversary of SongCircle, the organization gives the impression that they are shifting gears to leverage themselves as a premier global community of songwriters. So one might wonder, what exactly are they looking for when they decide to give out all 25,000 dollars worth of prizes? Well, with a cursory look over the winners from this year, here are the top 5 things that Flearoy, Barnaby Bright, Lucius, Todd Alsup, Stephanie Nilles, Sierra Noble, and Brett Steinberg seem to have had in common:
Top 5 Winning Traits
1. Commanding vocals.
2. Commanding stage presence
3. Big Choruses that brand themselves into your consciousness.
4. Well executed arrangements and precise instrumentation.
5. Well written and effortless sounding lyrics.
I have much more to say regarding the performances of the bottom 7, the international winners, and the young writer finalists. But, for now I must end this post. Thanks for reading and you should consider submitting to the contest next year if you missed this one. I hope to join your circle sometime in the near future!