Songwriting contests inherently bring up something strange in me. What I often esteem as an organic, creative, painful, beautiful, spirit-generated process of songwriting and performing becomes a bit distorted. Instead, it moves towards being a competitive, anxiety-ridden, heady process that challenges me to stay present.
And so it was, this past Friday when I got to perform on the Big Stage - that is, the main stage at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. We ten finalists (out of over 700 they said) were invited to perform two songs in the showcase. We were performing for cash, exposure, and a chance to be invited back to perform a full set at next year's festival.
We drew lots to determine the order, and as luck would have it, I drew #1. Lucky? Unlucky? Who can say. I was happy to get my anxiety over with quickly, but was less than thrilled about having to warm up the crowd.
At any rate, I did my thing, felt pretty good about how I sang and performed. As I then sat through the next 9 performances the evaluation began: are they better than me? What does that even mean? Ooh, I don't like this song - so I must be better than them. So many ways to evaluate this occurrence: vocal performance, guitar chops, stage presence, lyrical content, phrasing, melody, likability of each tune. What a bizarre exercise to be placed in a pecking order and determine a "winner."
OK, so I didn't win. Didn't even crack the top 5. I found myself disappointed and envious of my friend Megan Burtt, who did take home the title (and a nice custom guitar). My malaise lasted an hour or two, until I decided to spend the rest of the day backstage taking in the VIP treatment afforded to us finalists.
There, my fog quickly lifted as I found myself having dinner with, chumming with, laughing with, and telling stories with Ani DiFranco, David Wilcox, and Jonatha Brooke. Pinch me! This went on for hours.
As I was talking to another musician friend (Amy Speace) and relating her my joy at talking with these folks, she looked me in the eye and said, "You belong at the table."
So moving forward I am trying to integrate that, to fully believe and embody that. I am so exceedingly grateful for the experience, and hope to be back again. More contests of course to enter next year, to see how "good" they think I am. How strange.