Tuesday, May 12. Asheville, NC. Eight singer-songwriters from across the country convened in the beautiful mountains of Western NC this past Saturday night (May 9) at the 40th LEAF Festival, to perform and compete in the second annual NewSong Presents: LEAF Singer-Songwriter Showcase & Competition. It was standing room only in the festival’s Barn venue, a historic wooden structure blessed with outstanding acoustics, history and vibe, having been constructed in the early 20th Century by the illustrious students of the now defunct Black Mountain College (whose alums include John Cage, Buckminster Fuller and Robert Rauschenberg).
The order in which these talented singer-songwriters presented their original songs was happenstance; despite having names drawn from a hat to determine the order just minutes before the program began, the energy and flow of the music from one performer to the next was remarkably cohesive and arcing, much like that of a favorite and well-worn album.
And while all the finalists played an integral role in the evening’s showcase, it was Duluth, Minnesota’s Rachael Kilgour who impressed both the judges and the audience the most; a packed house even awarded Kilgour the only standing ovation of the show after she completed her set in the contest’s second round.
“It was an impressive group of talented singer-songwriters,” stated Grammy-winning producer Steven Heller, one of the contest’s four judges. “The eight finalists are all winners. The grand star Rachel Kilgour, I hope, will become a household name, moving us with her insightful, emotive words and song.”
After the first round, Kilgour was selected along with Chad Elliott (Coon Rapids, IA) and Asheville’s own Brittany Ann to advance to the final and second round. According to judge Josh Blake, an Asheville-based producer, musician and president of iamavl.com, it was “the authenticity of Rachel’s performance, combined with her ability to describe her life’s experiences through her music, that allowed her to rise to the top of an extremely talented pool.”
“This year’s LEAF Contest received really strong entries coming from across the country and beyond,” stated judge Gar Ragland, the president and co-founder of NewSong Music, which produced the event. “The caliber of songwriting showcased at the LEAF Contest finals was very impressive, yet Rachael’s expressive and dynamic performance style – coupled with really well crafted lyrics and engaging melodies – set her apart from the other talent.”
“We’re also very excited to once again be able to support the wonderful LEAF Schools & Streets programs from proceeds from contest entry fees,” continued Ragland. “The LEAF Schools & Streets programs do amazing work across our communities in western NC and beyond, and we’re proud to support the program in this way.”
As the winner, Kilgour will return to the LEAF Festival this Fall for a mainstage performance of her own, and she’ll also advance as a regional finalist in the next international NewSong Contest.
“I loved my time in North Carolina and at LEAF, thank you for the incredible opportunity! The tour of Echo Mountain Studio on Saturday blew my mind, and left me dreaming bigger recording dreams than ever before. I am inspired. I so enjoyed connecting with the other finalists and hearing their work. I think we all felt grateful to perform in such a sweet space to such an attentive and encouraging audience – a songwriter can’t ask for much more than that. I am happy that my work was received so well by the judges and by the audience, it is quite an honor to have been selected as the winner of the competition. Thank you for the recognition and for all of the work you do for folks like me. I can’t wait to return in the fall!” – Rachael Kilgour