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Songwriter makes lyrics count at festival

NY woman wins contest to sing at today's Mountain Stage concert

NY woman wins contest to sing at today's Mountain Stage concert

August 12, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Performing songwriter Kate McDonnell packed her guitar and headed from New York to West Virginia's first Mountain Stage NewSong Festival at Claymont Court south of Charles Town on Saturday because she wanted to help build the "festival family" such fledgling events tend to nurture, she said.

McDonnell's top showing in the festival's new song contest might make her its matriarch.

Her songwriting skills and strong performance with "Go Down, Moses" earned McDonnell the contest's $500 grand prize and the opportunity to join today's powerhouse lineup for the Mountain Stage Show.

"Go down, Moses/Won't you take me down/I thought of it/I thought of it a thousand times/Go part the waters so I can walk through/I thought of it/I thought of it a thousand times/But I didn't have you."

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McDonnell, an English literature major who said her songwriting is influenced by "mythic" writers, will take the stage fronting the Claymont mansion today with The Flatlanders, Darrell Scott, The Bluehouse, Gretchen Peters and Robert Lee Castleman.

Their performances will be recorded for October broadcast on West Virginia Public Radio's two-hour Mountain Stage show, Mountain Stage host and co-founder Larry Groce said.

The well-established radio program jumped at the chance to back the NewSong Festival because "songs are what we're all about," Groce said.

Several hundred spectators fanned around three stages to watch musicians perform new music and conduct educational workshops. A handful of food and arts vendors sold their goods.

About 75 performing songwriters from a variety of genres entered the festival's new song contest, festival co-founder Douglas Imbrogno said.

"This is not a country festival. It's a festival devoted to great songwriting in all genres," Imbrogno said. "We want this song contest to become like the Tony Awards of songwriting in America."

Chris Kasper of Philadelphia took home the festival's $300 best song award with his composition, "Favorite Highway."

Janet Perkins of Indianapolis, a.k.a. Skylark, performed the tranquil "Make Me Peace in the Eye of the Storm," a song she wrote during a difficult time in her life, she said.

Contest finalist Paul Helou of New York sang a whimsical, catchy tune called "Listen to the Mockingbird," which he dreamed of performing with the Allman Brothers.

Peter Kosky of South Charleston, W.Va., mined his childhood for the lyrics to his song about going to a country fair on the Fourth of July, he said.

Keith and Joan Pitzer of Kingwood, W.Va., looked to the rivers they fight to save for the "richness of metaphors" they provide for songs, Keith Pitzer said.

"Love is like a river sometimes changing in its flow/Some things you take for granted/Some things you'll never know," he sang.

Brady Earnhart of Charlottesville, Va., advised audience members to transport themselves to a bar at closing time while listening to "I Used To Be A Former Drunk," a tune brimming with such images as muzzled house lights and "pickup lines bleeding on the floor."

Festival-goers said they enjoyed the variety of music.

"It's great. I didn't know what to expect and I'm happy with what I found - great music in a beautiful spot," said Joan Crosky of Fairfax, Va.

Nestled in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, Claymont Court offers a serene rural setting that's easily reached from metro areas to the north, east and south, festival director Gar Ragland said.

Sharon Neuner and John McPherson made a day trip of the event, traveling from northern Virginia to attend the festival, they said.

Performing songwriter Clayton Russell of Charles Town, W.Va., said the festival is just what his hometown needs.

"It's cool. It seems like the casino is the only thing Charles Town is famous for. We need something like this," Russell said.

If you go ...

What: Mountain Stage NewSong Festival.

When: Today, stage show begins 3 p.m.

Where: Claymont Court, just outside Charles Town, W.Va. From Hagerstown, take Interstate 81 to Exit 12, W.Va. 9. Go east toward Charles Town and turn onto Old 340. Turn left immediately onto Huyette Road, then right to Claymont Court.

Cost: $25 at the gate.

Information: Go to the Web site www.newsongfestival.com.

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