Sunday, August 24, 2008

2008 Mountain Stage NewSong Contest, Part II

As y'all saw in my August 7th posting, I was selected to be a finalist in the Midwest Regional Round of the Mountain Stage NewSong Contest, which meant I got to perform on Monday, August 11th at the legendary Ark in Ann Arbor, MI. Here's an account of my adventures...

After hosting a house concert (which you will get to read about soon) for Carrie Elkin and getting to bed around 12:30 a.m., I got up at 4 a.m. to pack up the Vibe and hit the road with fellow Minneapolis songwriter Benjamin Tucker. Now, having done the brutal drive through Chicago to Michigan several times (once to meet up with Matt and drive to Lake Huron in search of fireworks), I had definitely opted to go around Chicago to avoid the mess of construction and traffic. Taking this route, I figured it would take about 12 hours--an estimate that was happily correct, especially considering neither Ben nor I had taken the time change into account. Having allowed some extra time in case of random acts of madness or a stop by the Wisconsin state troopers, we arrived at the Ark right on time.

We and 6 other finalists crammed ourselves into the dressing room, where all sorts of music legends had signed the wall. (If you ever find yourself in the Ark dressing room, look for my name next to Eddie From Ohio's.) The lovely NewSong folks ordered us pizza, hooked us up with drinks, and gave us lots of time to get to know each other, which was really one of the best things about the experience. NewSong is all about identifying and supporting emerging talent, and that was really the feeling you got that night.

It was, however, a competition, and having never participated in anything like this, I found myself getting pretty nervous. And I had lots of time to get myself worked up since I was performing right near the end. Thankfully, once I got on stage and just started singing, it all melted away, and I performed a solid mini-set. We each got to play two songs. Although neither of them had to be the song we originally submitted, I did choose to play my qualifying song "Come Life" as well as "Green Jacket" (Mother Banjo fans, look for a demo of that soon on my website.)

After all the finalists played, Patrice Pike (one of the three judges that night) played a short set. Coming for a more rockin' background (she was actually a 2006 finalist on the reality TV show "Rock Star: Supernova"), her songs had a good energy, but it was her soulful voice that really stood out.

Following Patrice, all the finalists were invited on stage, and the evening's host Gar Ragland (also a judge) to congratulate us and announce the winner. Although I had been nervous about playing, I was oddly indifferent about the results--probably a good thing since I was not the winner. The winner was Steve J. Dawson. A well-known commodity in his hometown of Chicago, he is a teacher at Old Town School of Folk Music and plays in a band called Dolly Varden. He had a great voice and delivered some really catchy country tunes.

After the show was over, we all hit the pub next door--Conor O'Neill's--where we sat ourselves at the appropriately named "Writer's Table." Joining the finalists were Gar Ragland and Ron Sowell, the Music Director for Mountain Stage and the third judge. We had such a good time, I didn't get to bed until about 2:30 a.m., when I crashed at my friend Susie's. The next morning Ben and I hit the road back to Minnesota, making great time and making it back into St. Paul just in time for a pretty grand late summer thunderstorm.

To see more photos of my Ann Arbor adventure, visit my "Pics" on my MySpace page.

For more info about the regional finalists, click here. I can't speak for all the regional finalists, but the Midwest Regional Round had some pretty great songwriters. I especially enjoyed Ernie Hendrickson, whose lovely Americana tunes were accompanied by some pretty fine guitar picking.


Matt Winters said...

You did win the prize for Shortest Contestant, I see! ;-)

Ellen Stanley said...

ha! yes...i did win that prize, even with added height of my cowgal boots. :)