Like most music and entertainment related things happening this year, the pandemic caused a drastic rethink in how The Great River Folk Fest Songwriting Contest might work. The festival itself was clearly a no go area but the wonders of modern technology and the socially connected nature of the world meant that the Songwriting Contest was still a viable option, even if, for this year only, it was a purely on-line affair. All the kids are doing it so why not?
And so a panel of 7 judges, including past songwriting winners Greg Gilbertson & Laura Joy, songwriters John Smith & Melissa McCarthy, sound engineers Brett Huus and Rusty James, and performers committee member Grace Maas put their heads together and opened their ears. They eventually whittled down the impressive entries to 14 long-listers, each of whom got an equal slice of the virtual tip-jar, and then one winner and two runners up.
A difficult task given the array of talent that was paraded in front of them but the eventual top-placed final three was chosen with the wonderfully named Shanna in a Dress taking the top spot. Blending delicate folk finesse with a gorgeous voice, delivering witty and worldly wise lyrics but also wonderfully poignant sentiments, and with a slight air of Suzanne Vega’s intimate style about her, few could argue that she didn’t deserve such a finishing position.
Close behind her was Amanda Pascali and her wonderful style which she refers to as Immigrant Folk Music, a sound reminiscent of the likes of Bob Dylan, if he had perhaps grown up in Messina rather than Minnesota. There is a slight irony here in that Amanda was one of the first to make it through to the short-list, something she spoke about on her social media pages, and it was from there that eventual winner Shanna got the idea to enter the competition herself. But no hard feelings, I’m sure, after all nowhere more so than in the musical community has there been a real sense of unity and a “we are all in this together” spirit in evidence.
And taking the remaining place on that podium was The Sapsuckers, a husband and wife, fiddle and guitar duo whose wonderfully entwined voices are breath-taking in the extreme.
So the competition may have run its course for this year but you can still support these wonderful artists by checking out their music, perhaps noting their gigs in your diary and especially by purchasing a CD or other merchandise. You have to do something with all that spare cash you have saved by not going to actual gigs after all.
Next year, I’m sure things will be back to normal (fingers crossed) and not only will The Great River Folk Festival be back out doing what it does best, the competition finalists will be out there to be experienced in all their audible, acoustic glory. Till then, support these musicians… any musicians…all musicians, and make sure that when normality returns they are still there to bring loveliness and laughter, wit and wisdom, grace and grandeur into your life. And obviously keep an eye on the festival page so that you can be first in the queue for tickets or a place in the songwriting contest next time around.