Talent manifests itself in many corners of the Forty Acres, but eight singer-songwriters at UT have been chosen to compete for the chance to perform at this year’s Kerrville Folk Festival.
The eight singer-songwriters will play original folk and country music at the live competition at the Cactus Cafe. The songwriters will be judged by an esteemed panel comprised of booking agents, studio owners and others in the music businesses.
Public relations senior Kristin Kingsbury, one of the eight performers, said her passion for singing and writing songs goes back to childhood.
“I wrote a few songs when I was still in elementary school, but when I got my first guitar at 13, I really began to get the writing bug,” Kingsbury said. “My first love will always be singing, but songwriting is a very close second.”
Kingsbury said that in high school one of her professors nicknamed her the “songbird.” She was inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
“The poem immediately became an anthem for me,” Kingsbury said. “As the poem states, ‘the caged bird sings of freedom’ and in the same way, I feel that singing and songwriting gives me that freedom.”
Theatre and dance freshman James Johnson, another of the performers, said in addition to freedom, he experiences “musical hunger,” an uncontrollable need to write music. Johnson’s inspiration comes from memories and emotions he felt compelled to write about in his life.
“I write about anything I feel. Those two songs that I will perform were written as an outlet for some feelings that were trapped inside of me,” Johnson said. “If I feel something and it doesn’t just pass as most feelings do, I know I have my next song.”
Kingsbury said her favorite part about songwriting has always been the lyrics and being able to craft songs that convey a feeling while still maintaining a sense of mystery. Writing songs that range from issues about relationships of any kind to songs about how she sees the world, Kingsbury said she uses music to make sense of her life.
Johnson says music allows him to find closure when he cannot find words to describe how he feels, and he hopes his songs will help someone find the same closure he has found.
“I want to be able to show people that they are not the only ones that feel the way they do,” Johnson said. “Music unites us. I feel like no matter your race or ethnicity, we all understand music. Music is the one thing we can all create and all understand. And to be able to create something that powerful is an experience that I could never quite explain.”
Will Shirey, pre-public relations sophomore and event coordinator for the Kerrville singer-songwriter competition, said singer-songwriter and folk music is powerful in its simplicity and vulnerability.
“Because it’s so stripped down, the music and the story of the song really have to play off of each other well to work,” Shirey said. “A good folk songwriter is just a good storyteller that can use the added dimension of an instrument to make you feel even more emotion.”
Many genres of music garner elements of theatricality with large stage productions and other distractions. Shirey said with singer-songwriter and folk music, there isn’t anything for the performers to hide their lyrics behind. The performers have to put everything out on stage.
“While it would obviously be incredible to win, I’m mostly just honored to be selected and so excited for the opportunity to perform for the judges and other people from the Austin music scene,” Kingsbury said. “I grew up always wanting to be a singer and just loving music. It’s weird to think about because it’s just sort of been there for as long as I remember — this idea that I was meant to do it.”
No matter who wins, all eight performers will have the opportunity to perform for important people in the music industry. Shirey said this competition is just the starting point for many of the musicians.
“It’s not just for hard core folkies or slam poets, but they’ll love it too,” Shirey said. “I’ve listened to all the musicians and they all have something really special to bring to the night, and who knows, maybe you might just find a musician you’ll want to keep up with.”