Songwriting competition showcases culture, music and passion

The theater was filled to the brim with people, some standing in line for popcorn to support the theater itself while many others occasionally strummed their instruments to make sure they were tuned. The dozens of people who filled the small, local theater were here for one purpose: to celebrate their culture and history through the power of music.

Dozens of people from across the East Tennessee community gathered at the Bonnie Kate Theater Saturday night to witness culture in action, as roughly 20 groups of performers, some single and some in small bands, played songs from their heart as part of the Tennessee Songwriter’s Week Competition.

The competition, as the title suggests, is part of the state’s second year of the Songwriter’s Week celebration, which helps showcase the state’s musical talent by bringing in musicians from all over.

“I have been playing music for about 25 years,” Jared Bentley, one of the performers, said.

Performances ranged from powerful and moving gospel pieces, to sad songs about addiction and homesickness to raunchy tales about escaping from the law and everything in between.

State Senator Rusty Crowe made a special appearance during the evening, as well.

“Songwriting is a craft that makes the world go round,” Crowe said.

Bentley said the experience was magical, in part because of the power music can have on culture.

“More than anything, music can get you through anything,” he said.

Three judges ranked the performers in several different categories. These judges, including Carter County Commissioner David Miller, arts and music teacher at T.A. Dugger Amy Price and Nashville songwriter Jeff Woods, then selected their top four to represent their community in the regional competition at the end of February.

Bentley was one of the four finalists, as well as Marina Waters, Julie Williams and Jon Foulk.

“It feels great,” Bentley said of the win. “I was very surprised.”

Though Bentley has been playing for roughly two and a half decades, he said it was a friend who convinced him to enter his first competition.

“I wanted to experience it, see what it was all about,” he said.

Dave Jones, East Tennessee Division Manager of the Department of Tourism Development, said the competition was a way to bring all these local musicians together and network them with communities who want to hear them.

“We are pretty well known for our music,” Jones said. “You are very fortunate to live in this area.”

For those looking to pick up an instrument for the first time, or for those looking for motivation to continue playing, Bentley said each performer has their own story to tell on stage.

“If you feel like you have something to say, you can always find your voice in music,” he said.

Regionals will take place February 29 at the Down Home in Johnson City, and the one winner from that will go to the Blue Bird Cafe in Nashville on March 29.

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