The Songwriter's Challenge

The John Hartford Memorial Festival expresses our deepest gratitude to each songwriter who has entered our songwriting contests. Your craft is special to us and your music is enriching and enlightening. John Hartford would be honored to know how his music has inspired you and us. Thank you. We look forward to hearing your songs as we kick off our 2018 John Hartford Songwriter's Challenge.

Our 2018 Songwriter's Challenge is now accepting up to 35 entries through midnight, March 1st, 2018. Win tickets to JHMF 2018, cash, a hand made trophy by Tom Burkhart, Cloud Shadow jewelry by Patti Hill, "The Cosmic Path to Melody and Lyric" written by Ernie Hill, more prizes, and perform in our Songwriter's Showcase on the Hartford Stage, the House that Bill Monroe built.

We do consider all compliant entries for future bookings. To be considered for booking, you MUST comply with the rules or your song will not be forwarded to our scoring panel, and will not be considered. PLEASE read the rules. Thanks and Good Luck!

To read the rules Click Here.

To submit an application Click Here.

Our first Challenge Winner, Scott Carnder with Lauren Schloemer, 2015 winner Jeremy Francis, and host Ernie Hill performing in the Showcase on the Hartford Stage(main stage)- The House That Bill Monroe Built.

Our first Challenge Winner, Scott Carnder with Lauren Schloemer, 2015 winner Jeremy Francis, and host Ernie Hill performing in the Showcase on the Hartford Stage(main stage)- The House That Bill Monroe Built.

Our 2017 Song Challenge Winners

We our tickled to announce our 2017 John Hartford Memorial Festival Songwriter's Challenge  winner and finalists and present to you their music. Once again, the allowed number of entries was reached and our panel of judges from all over the country had a tough, polished field of great music art to listen to and determine which best met the criteria. Congratulations to our first place winner, from Claxton, GA, 16 year old Micahlan Boney, for her insightful lyrics and soulful melody in her song "Gone Too Soon".  Micahlan, was also a showcase finalist last year with her sixth place winning song, “The Gospel According to John”. We encourage you to search these contestants and search their music. Scroll down for the 2017 Top Ten Playlist and past contest playlist archives.


First Place- “Gone Too Soon”  Micahlan Boney- Claxton, GA
Second Place- “Carry Him Home” Aubrey Eisenman- Asheville, NC
Third Place- “Joanne Revisited” Scott Nelson- Noblesville, IN  
Fourth Place- “Gone Lonesome Gone” John Bowyer- Bloomington, IN
Fifth Place- “Roll Julia Belle” Joshua Pitcher- East Peoria, IL 
Sixth Place- “A Memory” Marty Hopkins- Salem, SC 
Seventh Place- “Paddlewheel” Tom Poley- Tucson, AZ
Eighth Place- “Hear His Banjo Play” Johnny Plott- Indianapolis, IN
Ninth Place- “My Soul Bleeds Music” Josh Moody- Middle Valley, Ohio    
Tenth Place- “Are There Hillbilly Bands in Heaven” Kevin T. Hale- Westlake, Village CA

Meet Micahlan Boney

Hear more of Micahlan  at Reverb Nation

Hear more of Micahlan at Reverb Nation

John Hartford had a playfulness to his craft, especially seen in his songwriting. Although I understand he was a very driven person, he had to be, in order to accomplish all he did in his life. His songwriting always had the perfect combination of heart-felt sentiment, and whimsy. His creative lyrics and performances touched the souls of others which after all is what music is all about.”

— Micahlan Boney




I first encountered Micahlan when she was 13 and entered her song “Hannah From Doctortown”. I heard lyrics and music that introduced me to someone who was musically years beyond her age. When she made the showcase in our 2016 Songwriter’s Challenge, with her song, “The Gospel According to John”, I met her for the first time. Micahlan is a true talent, a truly gifted music soul. I expect her to go anywhere she desires with her talent. Check out the 2016 archives to her “The Gospel According to John”, along with all of our talented finalists from years past. I got to spend some cyber time with Micahlan and get some answers that came to mind over the last three years of listening to her JHMF contest entries. You can learn more about our 2017 winner, from Claxton, GA, 16 year old Micahlan Boney, and hear more of her music, at her Reverb Nation page. Ernie Hill
How long have you been performing?  I began performing when I was ten with my older brother, Will. At 12, I joined or sat in with several local bands. Around 15, I was a part of 2 professional bands from Atlanta.  I’m so grateful to everyone who gave me an opportunity to play with them, especially when I was much younger. 
  Do you come from a musical family? My brother, Will, whom I mentioned, plays several instruments and sings. He's now a Physician's Assistant and doesn't perform anymore.  My parents don’t play, though I think they would make excellent musicians! They are great people and incredibly supportive of me. They take me everywhere. I feel as if they are musical.
Do you have other contest awards?  In 2015 at the Charlie Poole Festival in Eden N.C.,  I won 1st place in both youth instrument and vocal, and placed in several adult categories. In 2016, I again won 1st in youth vocal, also I won several adult categories like 1st in bluegrass fiddle, 1st in vocals and 1st in open instrument (mandolin).  In 2014, when I was 14 years old,  I went to the Uncle Dave Macon Days outside of Nashville, Tennessee. There I won 2nd in the Uncle Dave Macon Freewheelin’ Banjo performance category, and 3rd in blues singing. I was competing against professionals and I felt lucky to place at all. Last year, I placed 6th in the John Hartford Memorial Songwriter’s Challenge. 
How do you feel when you don’t win a contest?  Of course, I have entered contests and not won or even placed. No one wins all the time. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I'm usually disappointed. But that is a natural part of trying something new. In the end, I am thankful for the chance to stretch myself and happy for those who do win. Ultimately, I think contests should serve to build community between musicians. The John Hartford Memorial Festival does an outstanding job of this, and I think that’s what drew me to the festival. 
What would you tell other contestants who do not win? Well, this is my third time entering the contest. I learned something each year I tried and I just kept digging a little deeper. Last year, I judged a local music contest and it made me realize how hard it is to judge other people's talents. Overall, when a person express their thoughts and puts them down in words and music, they have already succeeded. 
What is your opinion about our contest, that we require a songwriter to use the components we list? I think the criteria that JHMF requires for the songwriting contest are challenging, but they keep the focus on John and that really gives the song writing contest a uniqueness. At first the rules and guidelines are challenging, but in many ways, they level the playing field. 
How has the music of John Hartford inspired you?  My introduction to John was through Bob Carlin and David Bromberg, both outstanding musicians and producers of John Hartford albums. When I was 12, Bob was my banjo teacher. He knew I played banjo and fiddle and he told me to watch John's videos and listen to “The Speed of The Old Long Bow”. It's one several of John's albums that Bob produced and played on. I was mesmerized by John. As a musician he was so organic yet a technical master, and he seemed very light-hearted. Particularly I loved how he could sing while fiddling and dance while playing banjo. And he didn't just chop on the fiddle and sing; he actually bowed and sang. This is not easy to do! Now, singing while playing fiddle is something I do because he did it.  
Later Mark Cosgrove, a former guitar teacher and member of David Bromberg's band, introduced me to Mr. Bromberg. (By the way, I'm a huge fan of all these guys I've mentioned and can't believe they give me the time of day.) I met David one night after his show at Randy Wood's Picking Parlor which is near my hometown. David told me about producing “Steam Powered Aereo Plane” and urged me to listen to the album. Quickly, like his other many other fans, I realized why John Hartford was a pioneer and lyrical master.
John Hartford had a playfulness to his craft, especially seen in his songwriting. Although I understand he was a very driven person, he had to be, in order to accomplish all he did in his life. His songwriting always had the perfect combination of heart-felt sentiment, and whimsy. His creative lyrics and performances touched the souls of others which after all is what music is all about. As I try to connect with others through my music, John serves as one of my main role models. Last summer I visited Bobby Taylor in West Virginia and got to play a fiddle and bow that once belonged to John Hartford. It was a sublime moment knowing that I was playing something that he used and loved. I had butterflies in my stomach while I played it. 
 Did you begin playing by ear? I did. My musical journey began by playing classical, but after a few years, I left that and shirked all written music. Over the last two years, I have returned to reading music and notation due to my teachers, Adam DeGraff , Andy Hatfield, and Alex Depue. I am grateful, though, for the time I spent playing by ear because I leaned to jam, improvise, interpret, and so many other positive things. I still consider myself an ear player.
You are 16, do you attend public school?  I am in the 10th grade and I've always been home educated by my parents as was my brother. For me, an advantage of being home schooled is I do not know a single line of a Justin Beber or Beyonce song, but I know 200 old time tunes. Also, it allows me time to travel, perform, practice, take, and give lessons. 
How does your celebrity affect your social life? I have to laugh at this question because I'm not a celebrity. I have friends all over, but I live down a dirt road on a small farm in south Ga. When I'm not playing music, I'm taking care of my pet chickens or working in the garden. Only things that have feathers and beaks think I'm important. 
How do you approach songwriting? It’s perfectly normal for a songwriter to have tunes and lyrics “drift through”. I am still trying to figure that out. I start with lyrics. I have a friend, Janisse Ray, an award winning author, and her advice to me was to start an idea file which I did. If I have an idea, line or phrase or something that strikes me, it goes on an index card and into my little plastic box. Getting started is always the hardest part to me and her approaches help me get over that hurdle. 
Can you remember ever not having a melody drift through your head? Do you ever dream new melodies? Melodies have always been drifting through my head. My earliest memories are of walking around the farm and seeing colors and shapes and thinking that they reminded me of melodies. I dream in melodies all the time; But I only hear partial bits of melodies/songs in my dreams, I don't dream of the entire song or if I do I don't remember all of it. Some melodies I've dreamed years ago, I still remember.
What do you do when you’ve finished a song, play it back and realize the tune already exists? Given my age, and since I'm not a prolific songwriter, I haven't had this problem. In my music studies, I work on playing classical and jazz so I always look to these for tune inspiration. I have heard it said no one can ever write any musical motif that Bach or Charlie Parker haven't already done. 
With “Gone Too Soon”, tell me how that song happened, please. I thought about how I wish I could have met or seen Mr. Hartford live. It makes me sad that I'll never have that chance so I wrote about the way I feel when I hear his music, particularly my favorite song, Steam Powered Aereo Plane. I'll probably sound a little like a hippie for saying this (and that's perfectly fine by me), but I feel a cosmic love when I hear the song so I tried to explain my emotional tie to it. I wrote the words first. For the music, at the time, I was working on Bach's “A Minor Concerto” which inspired the melody. 
What goes through your mind right before you step onto a stage? I always have this voice yelling in the back of my mind, "Let it flow. Give freely, Make sure, to the best of your ability, that everyone is having a good time and DON'T SCREW THIS UP!" 
Do you attend workshops? What do you get from them? I attend a lot of workshops all over the place. My parents have driven me many miles to workshops, camps, etc. I always walk away with a new tune, knowledge, idea, and friends. I attended Louisa Branscomb's WoodSong Retreat Workshop on scholarship last fall. Louisa teaches songwriting through mentoring, coaching and song critiques. She has been a mentor of mine.
Between fiddle, mandolin, guitar and banjo, which is your favorite? Each instrument has a different personality, and each is like one of my friends. At the moment, my favorite friend is my Randy Wood mandolin. 
What can we expect to hear at a solo Micahlan Boney concert? I play a mix of genres on a variety of instruments. Something I'm known for (around my area) is getting on my back while sawing away on the fiddle. I actually prefer playing with others, though. I love the dynamic and magic of playing in duets, trios or with a band.  
Do you have recordings? Yes, I am on ReverbNation and Youtube and I have a Facebook musician's page as well. As far as an album, I am working on that. I have someone in California who has offered to produce some of my songs so I'm looking forward to doing that this summer.
What is your performance schedule like? I play with a band Micahlan Boney and the Pig Eye Daddies (The guys are from Pig Eye, Ga. LOL It's a real place), and we play festivals, events, venues, and house concerts. We stay pretty busy. They are the nicest guys in the world and can really rock!  Over the summer, I will be sitting in with several other bands; I have some recordings to work on too. Plus, I have two shows in August, one in Lewisburg, West Virginia with Adam DeGraff and another in Ensenada, Mexico, opening for Alex DePue. 
What advice do you have for beginning songwriters and musicians? Get connected with other musicians, join jams, listen, and perform as often as you can, but most of all enjoy the journey because there is oh so much to learn. I used to be overwhelmed by all I don't know, but once I learned to appreciate the process of reaching each milestone, it took some of the pressure off. 
Do you have any advice for old folks like me? Honestly, I feel like I should be asking you for advice. My best friends are all over 45 and play music. I guess my humble advice is to be happy with where you are and celebrate your accomplishments. Rather, I would say to younger folks, "Stop pretending you know everything and take time to listen to older musicians. In fact, older experienced musicians are some the coolest people in the world. Seek out those with patient encouragement and cherish them as each one is a library and a blessing." 



 

2017 Top Ten Playlist

"Tribute To John Hartford" by contest organizers Ernie and Patti Hill

The song featured in this video was the result of a challenge given to me by our festival founder, John Hotze. When I first met John and told him I was a writer/songwriter, he said, "Write me a song about our festival." So, with the editing help of my partner/wife, Patti, we put together a song about the festival using John Hartford song titles. This song laid the foundation for our theme based John Hartford Memorial Festival Songwriting Challenge. I perform "Tribute to John Hartford" to open each showcase and gratefully enlist the help of contest winners and folks I've met and befriended at the festival, from left to right, Katie Burk, Jeremy Francis, Allie Burbrink, Ernie Hill and Sam Herrin. Hope you like it. The video is courtesy of My Tall Tripod.
 
-Ernie Hill
Songwriting Contest Coordinator
John Hartford Memorial Festival
Songwriter's Challenge Winners and Top Ten Playlist Archive
2016
2015
2014
2013

Questions?

Have a question about our contests? Drop us a line via the contact section on our web site.