Singer-songwriter contest returns to LEAF in May

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
Noan Partley is a past winner of the singer-songwriter contest presented by LEAF and NewSong Music.

When LEAF returns to Black Mountain in May, so will the annual singer-songwriter contest.

Now in its ninth year, the contest is hosted in collaboration between LEAF and NewSong Music.

Director and co-founder of NewSong Music Gar Ragland said the organization was founded in 2001 and hosted a song contest in New York, where he lived, until he relocated to Asheville a decade ago. Soon after, Jennifer Pickering, the executive director of LEAF, reached out to Ragland to create a song contest for the festival, he said.

 Ragland said the contest is to support both LEAF and the artists in the NewSong Music community.

He said this competition is one for singer-songwriters in the industry.

“They’re not just songwriters, they’re not just singers or performers,” Ragland said. “This is the unique breed of people that are both. We’re looking to identify and celebrate and promote truly exceptional artists who write and perform their own material.”

Ragland said that though this is a competition and winners will be named, the main goal is to highlight upcoming artists who may not have had a chance to be recognized otherwise.

“This is in no way a cut-throat competition,” Ragland said. “This is really to celebrate really exceptional emerging artists and give them a platform that they otherwise wouldn’t have.”

He said he wanted to create this competition to help singer-songwriters break into an industry he said is not built for newcomers.

“The industry is just not really set up to support and invest in emerging talent,” Ragland said. “It’s usually centered around the dollars typically flowing towards really promoting and sustaining already successful artists. There’s very little risk-taking in the industry as there once was. That’s really the spirit behind the competition.”

Contestants can submit songs online at until April 2. “Early bird” submissions are accepted until Feb. 24. Of the early submissions, one will be chosen as an automatic finalist into the competition while the rest will go into consideration with non-early entrants. All eight finalists are expected to be announced April 12.

The eight finalists will perform at the May LEAF festival for a panel of judges who work in the industry. The winner will not only earn a spot in NewSong Music’s international competition in the fall, but will also be invited back to LEAF in October as a paid performer.

Ragland said it is important that the artists do not stop receiving support after the competition. He said NewSong Music helps to continue promote the artists long after the competition is over.

“We’re the amplifier to their activity,” Ragland said. “Once you’re a member of the community, we feel like it’s our job to help spread the word to our audience.”