Over the Weekend: August 1-3, 2008

I ventured out of the Twin Cities this weekend for the 7th Annual Highway 61 Folks Festival in Mahtowa, Minnesota, a tiny town roughly 40 miles south of Duluth. The festival was set up at a town bar that is literally a hundred feet off Highway 61, giving the entire event an authentic, Northern Minnesota small town feel.

Over the Weekend: August 1-3, 2008

Second place songwriting competition winners St. Anyway

A small stage was set up outside the bar and covered lovingly in hand-painted signs and artificial flowers, and hay bales had been scattered in front of the stage as prime seating. By the time I arrived at the festival on Saturday, the grass in front of the stage had already been trampled down by a night of dancing and partying to blues-folk favorite Charlie Parr, but by 11 a.m. the previous night's revelers had already begun trickling back to the festival for more music.

Saturday's main event was the songwriter's competition. I had agreed to serve as one of the three judges for the contest, and 21 singer-songwriters and acoustic duos had signed up to strut their stuff in the hope of cash prizes and notoriety. Each act was required to perform two original songs, and the judges were instructed to rank them based on four qualities: creativity, lyrics, performance, and proficiency with their instrument. As with any competition, some of the participants were better than others, but overall I was impressed with the high level of talent present at the small festival.

Three of the acts placed in the festival, but in my opinion there were at least four participants worthy of recognition: youngster Shane Nelson, who placed first in the competition, blew the crowd away with his blues guitar technique and emotionally sincere lyrics; Cloquet-based banjo and guitar duo St. Anyway were charming and polished, taking second place; Minneapolis native Nigel Egg drew hoots and hollers from the crowd with his hilarious tale of love and carpentry, "Home Depot," earning him third place; and country-tinged balladeer Isaac Norman stayed true to the folk tradition by using his songs to tell bone-chilling tales of war and loss.

Back down in the metro area (or "the Cities," if you are up north), the highlight of the weekend was the Doomtree CD release show. Check out a review of the show by Amber Schadewald and a photo gallery by Daniel Corrigan.

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