New festival celebrates singer-songwriters
By Colleen Anderson
A new festival geared to singer-songwriters and their craft will make its debut in mid-August. The Mountain Stage NewSong Festival is scheduled for August 9 to 11 at Claymont Court near Charles Town, WV. Its organizers hope it will become a showcase national event for singers, songwriters and fans of folk, roots and Americana, country, blues, alternative and other music traditions.
“If we can pull off what we envision,” said Ron Sowell, one of the festival’s planners, “it’ll be a great festival. I think that in four or five years it’ll be a major festival of its kind on the East Coast.”
A prominent feature of the festival will be a new national songwriting contest. The weekend of performances, contests, showcases and workshops will culminate on Sunday with a live staging of the internationally broadcast public TV and radio music program Mountain Stage. The song contest’s grand-prize winner will earn a spot performing on that Mountain Stage along with the program’s usual lineup of nationally and internationally known performers.
Several well-known artists, including Paul Reisler and Chris Smithers, have already been contracted to perform and lead workshops at the festival, and other prominent singer-songwriters will join them. Among other features of the NewSong Festival will be “round robin” sessions in which three or four songwriters share the stage, trading songs and talking about their songwriting process. There will also be a free Open Stage Coffeehouse, where players can sign up and perform some of their tunes to the coffeehouse audience on hand.
The setting for the festival is conveniently located about 65 miles from both Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD. Fashioned after a design by George Washington, the Claymont mansion was built in 1820 by his grand-nephew, Bushrod Washington, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Claymont Court’s 370-acre grounds include plenty of level space for camping. A few dormitory-style rooms are also available.
How does a new festival come into being? The core group of planners — Ron Sowell, Gar Ragland, Douglas Imbrogno, Will Carter and Gary Reynolds — is made up of five musicians. Four of them are also songwriters.
Sowell described the process: “We started planning well over a year ago. Some of us had been discussing this idea for several years, but Will Carter brought the group together. Will also initiated the Appalachian String Band Music Festival at Clifftop and the Charleston Jazz Series. He’s got a good track record.
“We met for several months, mostly by e-mail and conference calls, to dream and visualize the festival. When we had a strong concept, we presented the idea to the producers of Mountain Stage. Anything they put their name on has to be done right. But we were a natural fit.
“We hope to build a community, not just throw a big party. It’ll be more intimate. It won’t be for everyone, but the people who love it will be passionate.”
For more information about the Mountain Stage NewSong Festival, including complete contest rules, an e-newsletter and information about tickets, lodging and volunteer opportunities, visit the website: www.newsongfestival.com