By MARINA WATERS
The storytelling capital of the world will offer a different kind of storytelling when it hosts the Tennessee Songwriter’s Week competition on Saturday, Feb. 15.
Jonesborough will host one of the state’s 40 qualifying rounds for the Tennessee Songwriter’s Week competition from 7 to 9 p.m. at the International Storytelling Center — which is rather fitting place for an event built around stories put to music.
“We’re Tennessee’s Oldest Town, where stories of the past run rich in our roots. And we’re the storytelling capital of the world, where we hold modern day audiences spellbound with the world’s oldest form of art,” Jonesborough Tourism and Main Street Director Cameo Waters told the Herald & Tribune. “So much of the past influences songwriting today and stories are at the center of it. It just feels right to host a Tennessee Songwriters Qualifying round here in Jonesborough.”
Songwriters throughout the region will perform their original songs for a panel of at least three judges. Four of those musicians will be chosen to continue on in the competition’s next round at The Downhome in Johnson City on Feb. 29.
But for some of the songwriters, it’s mostly about getting out there and sharing their music.
Allen Huff is a Jonesborough resident and songwriter who said he is ready to share his song with a crowd at the International Storytelling Center.
“Songs are something that if you don’t share them, it’s not a whole lot of fun to just play them for yourself,” Huff said. “I thought, ‘Why not throw it out there and see if it’s something that would get accepted into the contest?’ I guess it’s just the desire to play them in front of a wider audience and see how it’s received. It’s just for fun. I do it just to share.”
Huff is a pastor at Jonesborough Presbyterian Church, where he occasionally performs. He has also attended a couple of songwriting camps put on by folk musician John McCutcheon. Huff will put those skills to the test when he performs his song “Where I Live” in honor of his wife of 34 years and her family’s farm in Georgia.
“It’s a song that I wrote for my wife,” Huff said. “This coming summer we will have been married for 35 years, so it was one I wrote for Mother’s Day last year. It folds into images about the farm that her family has down in Georgia. The farm is sort of an image for Mary Anne and my relationship with her.”
“I’m looking forward to offering my song, but I’m also really looking forward to seeing what other people have to offer. That’s going to be a lot of fun, to be around a bunch of songwriters and hear a lot of original stuff.”
Another Jonesborough musician, Scott Wild, said it’s the connection to music that draws him to events such as the Tennessee Songwriter’s Week competition.
“With the original songs, the purpose of the music is to inspire people, to challenge people, to comfort people,” Wild said. “I get that sort of thing out of music. That’s kind of what I want to share.”
Wild has played throughout the region, performing cover songs mixed with his original music. After playing drums as a kid, being a part of different bands and playing guitar for years, Wild said he fell back into music when he was in the Army.
“I’m a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan,” Wild said. “I would write songs in my room during deployments, and on Sundays, I would play drums in the praise band and that was like the one thing during the week that would give me a break from the day-to-day stress of being there. I wrote a lot of my songs overseas. I think playing in the praise band kind of had an influence on me.”
A myriad of backgrounds and stories will be put to song during the competition on Feb. 15, but it’s those different kinds of stories and songs threaded together by emotion, Waters said, that bring people to music.
“It’s just inherent in human beings to love stories,” Waters said. “Storytelling is the oldest form of art after all, and I think humans naturally love sharing and absorbing stories. The beautiful thing is that it’s really easy to connect with a story. As humans, we experience a lot of the same grief, joy and hurt. That’s when we connect. And that’s what’s so beautiful about this form of art.”
The event is free to attend. For more information on Tennessee Songwriter’s Week and the competition, go to https://www.tnvacation.com/songwriters-week#showcase-events. For more information on the Jonesborough event, go to https://jonesborough.com/special_event/tennessee-songwriters-week-qualifying-round/.