I don’t remember what made me sit down about a year ago in my bedroom and pick up my guitar. I don’t remember exactly why I chose the chords I did or the melody I came up with. I really don’t remember what made me pull the lyrics out of my mind that I put with the music to form a song. But I do remember one thing: it was the story, a rather relatable one (I hope) of wondering what someone else is thinking that pushed me to write the song that I later sang for the Tennessee Songwriter’s Week competition.
I performed my original song at the Bonnie Kate Theatre in Elizabethton on Saturday, Feb. 1, as part of the qualifying round of the competition. I had signed up on a whim thinking I had nothing to lose by doing it. It had been a while since I had played out, but I had spent years playing at local joints in Kingsport and every Wednesday for friends, teachers and passersby my senior year of high school. I just felt like it was time to get back out there and give it a shot, if not just for the experience.
But I am humbled to say that I was one of the four singer songwriters who were chosen to move on to the next round of the competition.
These people sang songs about the Nolichucky River and finally coming home to East Tennessee, the one place the singer said he thought he’d never run back to. They sang songs about finding sobriety and facing lost relationships. They sang about falling in love and coming back to their hometown.
I think it’s stories like those that drew a crowd and convinced 19 musicians to sign up for the competition along with so many others who signed up for the other qualifying rounds throughout the state (including one on Saturday right here in Jonesborough). I believe it’s those sort of stories that made state officials in Tennessee dedicate the last week of February to songwriters and the thousands of songs that have been written here.
I think at the heart of it, that’s what makes me want to write songs — the stories. That’s what makes me want to be a journalist and write articles in each edition of the Herald and Tribune. It’s that same thing that draws me to poetry and even typing out thoughts and what can only be described as “writings” in my phone in the dark when I should be sleeping. If you strip down all the details of each medium and pull apart what makes a song a song and a poem a poem and an article an article, all of those things are really the same. They are all stories.
They’re stories of my family history, like the short story I wrote in college about my great great uncle who shot and killed a man in self defense and never served a day for it. They’re stories of the community, like the articles I’ve written about leaders coming together to come up with a plan for a new Jonesborough School after years of debate. They’re stories of a dream I had put to a poem that a girl in my poetry class at UT shared with her roommate who cried upon hearing it. I wasn’t someone special to either of them. But that story was. It’s those kind of stories that mean something to everyone.
That’s what made me pick up a guitar when I was 15. And it’s that same sort of storytelling that brought me back to it at 27 in front of the crowd at the Bonnie Kate. I can’t wait to share a story at the next round of the competition at the Down Home in Johnson City on Feb. 29, and, most likely, for as long as I live.
Marina Waters is a writer and musician who is also a journalist at the Herald & Tribune.