In the club: Songwriters galore | AspenTimes.com

In the club: Songwriters galore

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

WINTER PARK, Colo. – Tuesday night at Randi’s Grill and Pub, I had the opportunity to watch the proceedings of the fifth installment of the first round of the songwriters’ competition associated with this year’s 7908 Songwriters Festival in Aspen.

Scores of songwriters from across the state have been entering the contest at various music venues over the last few weeks, competing in places like Breckenridge, Avon, Steamboat Springs and Aspen. At each stop (five so far, including Winter Park), judges evaluate the competition and then choose a finalist who will compete for the top spot during the week of the upcoming festival, to be held March 21-25.

The eventual winner will be declared “Colorado’s Best Songwriter 2012” and will get to perform at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House on the festival’s closing night. Not only that, they’ll be introduced by pop music icon John Oates, who is executive producer of the city-sponsored festival.

I saw a lot of really good singers and songwriters at the Winter Park venue. Roughly half of the two-dozen entrants probably had the stuff to advance to the next level. The production went smoothly and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Amy Kaiser, operations manager for the Wheeler, and Trenton Allan, who handled production duties at the Aspen installment (Jan. 17 at The Red Onion) and also Tuesday in Winter Park, should be commended for their hard work in support of a great new addition to the festival at large.

One thing sticks in my craw, though, and that’s the inconsistency of the judging at some of the towns where the finalists have been selected. As it turns out, the winner of the Winter Park competition played a large role in choosing the judges. He wasn’t attempting to “fix” the contest on his own behalf but was forced to call on people he knew because other people associated with the club didn’t seem to have an interest.

It would be expensive for the Wheeler to send a team of impartial, qualified judges to each town to select a finalist, and so the task is left up to the clubs. This leads to an imperfect system in which hometown favorites usually are chosen on the basis of their support (“cheering section” would be an appropriate term) and not the quality of the actual song. Mind you, at a couple of the towns, qualified judges were on hand and made the right call. But that hasn’t been the case at every juncture on the road to the Aspen finale.

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How do I know all of this without having personally attended each phase of the first round? I talk to people and try to get down to the heart of the matter.

I’ve nothing against the winner of the Winter Park competition: Matt Holliday is a good singer with oodles of stage presence and an all-around nice guy, from what I could tell. His songs were slightly above-average, if not somewhat forgettable. My problem is that he was entered in a songwriting contest, yet there were many songs performed by other artists that were far stronger.

Of course, evaluating songs is a subjective thing, and one person’s idea of a clunker is another person’s gem. And, the judges also had to determine whether the songwriter they picked to be a finalist could carry the load and perform full sets of original material at various venues around Aspen in March while vying for the crown.

On their “December’s Children” album, the Rolling Stones included the composition “The Singer, Not the Song,” which carried the theme of someone’s unconditional support for another person (a musical artist, no doubt) because of who they were inside, not because of the song that person wrote or sang.

That sentiment could very well have been applied to how the judges at Randi’s Bar and Grill arrived at their selection Tuesday night. They went with the guy they knew, even singing along with him at times because they already knew the words. I suppose life isn’t fair and this was yet another example.

Perhaps when the winner is chosen, the title should carry an asterisk next to it, denoting that the judging in the preliminary round was a bit askew.

asalvail@aspentimes.com

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