Saturday, May 26, 2018

Singer Songwriter Contest Attracts Impossibly Good Talent--Again

"Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it." ~Stevie Wonder

From the balcony, John Sonofmel performing.
The English language is lacking superlatives to describe last night's singer/songwriter contest at Sacred Heart. Not that we don't have good words, it's just that they have all been so overused that they've been diluted and sapped of their true power.

Having said that, I will simply note that both the venue and the caliber of talent that was on display last night was simply wonderful, exceptional, full of poignant moments worthy of being enshrined. Thank you to each and every writer/artist performer who came from whatever distance to be with us, to share their pearls. I'm sure you could tell by the audience reactions that every single person who took the stage was extraordinarily appreciated.

The event began with a welcome that included special thanks to Sacred Heart for hosting the event. Having performed here at a few previous Armory concerts, I know that the staff here is unmatched for their dedication to getting every mic and speaker perfectly attuned to capture and reproduce the acoustics and voices, and being a former church designed to impress, impressing it does very well.

The way this competition works is like this. Each performer has to sing two songs. The first is one of their own composition, the second a selection from the Dylan archive. The performers are judged on their own songs. And there were just so many incredibly good songs.

Pat Eliason, who has been involved with this event since its inception in Hibbing two decades past, introduced Gene LaFond & Amy Grillo to open with a song. The North Shore duo chose an endearing Dylan tune to honor the memory of John Bushey who could not be with us,  “I Remember You.”

M.C. Pat Eliason then introduced the panel of judges, comprised of Gene LaFond, Maija Jensen (KUMD producer who shares a birthday with Bob Dylan), Jamie Ness of the Boomchucks and former winner),  Karen Sunderman (host of the Playlist and Making It Up North), and Christa Lawler (Duluth News Tribune journalist who covers the Arts & Entertainment beat.)

The judges. (photo credit: Michael Anderson)
Toughest assignment ever... so much talent.

1. The performers came from a range of locations. Our first was from Peoria, Illinois, also a painter and poet, Daniel Botkin, who sang a fabulous song Destined For Stardom accompanied by two young people. The Dylan selection was actually a medley of five songs he cobbled together with segues beginning with My Back Pages.

2. John Sonofmel from Hayward Wisc. followed, saying, “Wayward, not Hayward” as he took the stage. John has a rich baritone voice which served him well at Wednesday's poetry event. John sang We’re All Refugees. One line that jumped out for me was, “It’s hard not to wonder what could go wrong in every single moment…” His Dylan selection was "Things Have Changed" and as soon as he finished it was apparent these first two performers had set the bar high.

3. Eric & Rachel Cyr were third with another beautiful song titled Calloused. This line captures the message of the song: “I hope that your hands will get calloused but your heart never will…” Their Dylan selection was an incredibly moving rendition of "Boots of Spanish Leather." Heartbreaking and no doubt moistening eyes across the room.

Azure and Aaron
4. Lauren Burton sang next, her original song titled Everything I Need. “I have everything I need now that I’ve got you.” This was followed by a beautifully rendered version of "Emotionally Yours." Thank you for that, Lauren. Great song. You moved us.

5. Azure Daniels and Aaron Tink followed with song titled Landscapes, a reflection on life and the choices we make that bring us to where we are. Here's a line that spoke to me from this beautiful song: “But we’ll keep on rowing like the rivers keep flowing and maybe we, too, will find our way.” Azure pulled out a washboard to deliver a bluegrass funk to "Maggie’s Farm," a Newman family favorite.

6. Walter Lyle of Bear Creek called himself "another old Dylan fan.” With guitar and harmonica he shared a lighter song, “I’m chasing you around the house… Round and round we go… Where we stop nobody knows.” His Dylan selection, "Every Grain of Sand," left me wondering how Dylan could produce so many great songs.

7. Joe Schlafer introduced his song by stating that Dylan wrote topical songs when he started. Here are a couple excerpts: “Listen to the bell sounding the alarm..." and "Fire from the sky took us by surprise, shook us up and knocked us down, didn’t leave us wise.” His Dylan selection was the theme from Billy the Kid  called "Billy" Another great one.

8. The duo Mama’s Stolen Horses  -- Abby and Kris Robin accompanied by Jacob Mahon sang River Carry Me. Jacob Mahon was last year's winner.
"There’s water on the left and water on the right
From the looks of it there’s no end in sight…
Oh river won’t you carry me… put my mind at ease.”
The Dylan selection: "Buckets of Rain"

9. Dave Dvorak of Minneapolis sang Dylan’s Gone Electric followed by "Mr Tambourine Man." Ditto to all superlatives above.

Josie Langhorst. (Photo credit: Michael Anderson)
10. And then Josie Langhorst came to the stage. I spoke with her briefly beforehand and learned that she's 12 years old which brought many thoughts to mind, including being introduced to Dylan via Ed Hilliker, a friend on the school bus in seventh grade who said, "You should listen to this" as he handed me The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.

Josie sang A Different Side to Life, a song with some pretty profound lyrics for a youth her age.
“Everyone has those days
when they can’t see through the haze
Confusion overruns your mind
but once it clears you see a different side.” Her rendition of "Mr Tambourine Man" led me to scribble these notes to myself: "Absolutely mindblowing. Dylan's incredibly profound song so powerfully transported to an even higher orb. Audience absolutely riveted."

11. Jerry Esnough followed with Where the Skyline Meets the Road, a traveling song.
“We take our chances out on the highway beyond the comfort zone,
We meet somewhere on the edge where the skyline meets the road.”
Jerry introduced his Dylan selection with “I always wanted to do this song in front of a Dylan-loving audience.” And then he floored us with "It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)." I overheard someone say, “He totally gets it.” Awesome

Photo credit: Michael Anderson
12. Eli Hawthorne grew up 45 minutes North of here. He shared a song about the neighbors out here in the middle of nowhere titled Man Down.
"Maybe we’re all broken and scattered to the wind
and maybe it’s some part of us that will never love again.”
Eli's Dylan selection: "Don’t Think Twice."

13. Peter Klug from Mankato showed that he's a skilled performer and his song was titled I Love This Band about playing shows for money.
“I know what I want and I’m never feeling fed.”
“I love where I’m coming from and I love my band”
He did some very nice riffing, and followed with knockout rendition of "Tangled Up In Blue." Solid.

14. This was Rachel Nunemacher's first singer/songwriter contest. She began by acknowledging all the talent that preceded her. She, too, showed that she had something to offer and like the rest appeared totally comfortable. What a great venue for your first event like this. Her original song was titled Ladder in the Rain.
“I’m holding on to something deeper than faith…
Piece by piece… I can sing to your heartbeat…
I’m hanging on the edge, they say we’re too young...”
“So just forget the rest.”

15. Ryan Lane from Duluth just returned from three years in Madagascar with the Peace Corps. The trigger for this song he wrote in Madagascar came from a moment in a rice field waist deep in mud, a song titled Love Songs to a Ghost.
“No one ever lived by being too cautious”
“Buried heart deep in the mud and losing good sleep over nothing but you.”
“We burned those dreams in the moment…”
He followed by singing the song that made him start listening to what Bob Dylan had to say, “Farewell Angelina.” Thank you, Ryan.

16. Steve Davis, with his faithful Martin guitar, sang My Time, a song for everyone about their dreams. “My time will come…” He closed the competition with "All Along the Watchtower."

* * * *
The points were tallied up and after a few moments interlude Pat Eliason read the final results. There

3rd Place
Eli Hawthorne

2nd Place
Ryan Lane

1st Place
Mama's Stolen Horses

Mama's Stolen Horses courtesy Michael Anderson
* * * *
Thank you to every one of you who worked so hard to make this such a stellar event.

Today at one o'clock Richard F. Thomas, Harvard Classic professor and author of Why Bob Dylan Matters, will be giving a lecture at Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum as part of the John Bushey Memorial Lecture Series. Then at 8:00 tonight Cowboy Angel Blue will be performing at Carmody's.

Sunday 11:00 a.m. is a Farewell Brunch at the Zeitgeist Cafe. Join if you can... to say goodbye till next time.


Phil said...

This was my first Singer-Songwriter event, but it will not be my last. I was blown away. I can't wait to see some of these entertainers at local venues in the near future. See you next year!

Unknown said...

Ed, thanks for this narrative of the Dylan contest. I have been unable to attend any of the Duluth Dylan Singer - Songwriter contests, but it was my favorite part of Dylan Days in Hibbing. I used to scribble notes on the list of performers so I could remember who sang some of the great music we would hear so I appreciate the excellence of your narrative here. I especially like the quotes from the songwriters' own songs. I have been to a couple of Dylan events at the mystical Sacred Heart venue so I know it must have been a very special evening. Thank you.

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