Songwriter Hall of Fame member John Oates wants to help budding musicians, and he's creating a big opportunity this year.
Oates has set up a musical home for himself in Aspen, and for the last two years, he has co-produced, and performed in, the 7908 Aspen Songwriters Festival, a five-day event at the Wheeler Opera House. Shawn Colvin, Donavan Frankenreiter, Keb Mo, Sam Bush and plenty of others have joined Oates in the intimate 7908 shows, but this year, Oates is opening up the stage to unknowns.
Six Colorado towns will hold preliminary competitions this month, bringing six finalists to Aspen to perform during the first three days of the 7908 Aspen Songwriters Festival March 21-25. A confidential panel of judges will choose who they term Colorado's Best Songwriter 2012.
Tuesday, three20south kicks off the preliminary competition for Colorado songwriters at 8 p.m. All ages and abilities are invited to the open-mic session. Bar owners expect a couple dozen participants, and if that's the case, each can play a couple songs; the number of entrants will determine the number of tunes, said Crawford Byers, of Rocky Mountain Entertainment.
Five other Colorado towns - Vail (Agave, Jan. 11), Steamboat Springs (The Tugboat, Jan. 12), Aspen (The Red Onion, Jan. 17), Winter Park (Randi's Grill and Pub, Jan. 24), and Boulder (Shine, Jan. 25) - will hold similar auditions.
Songs may be co-written and will be judged on originality, talent and presentation.
Each finalist will win three nights lodging in Aspen, perform in several of Aspen's bars in three evenings, and receive a full festival pass for the 7908 event and an invitation to all after-show parties.
The overall winner garners two extra nights of lodging and will perform at the 7908-finale concert, featuring Matt Nathanson, with a special introduction by Oates.
"It could literally be life-changing," said festival spokesperson Katharine Richardson.
"It is very important to me personally to nurture young songwriters and give them an opportunity to interact and collaborate with professionals and more experienced writers," Oates said through an email interview Thursday. "Songwriting is the life blood of the music industry, and our mission is to assure that the wellspring of talent have a creative 'home' from which the future of music can emerge."
The 7908 Aspen Songwriters Festival evolved from a series of shows Oates did in 2008 called The Stories Behind the Songs in Nashville and New York, then brought it to Aspen. The City of Aspen asked him to expand the concept into a larger format in partnership with the Wheeler Opera House, and now Velocity Television network broadcasts the festival nationwide. Recently Oates helped form the 7908 Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to fund scholarships, provide mentors and perpetuate the art and craft of songwriting, he said.
"This year's Colorado-wide songwriters' contest is the first step in the educational component of our festival and hopefully will expand nationally and internationally for the future," he said.
The festival lineup will be released Monday, and tickets go on sale Jan. 23. For more information, visit www.wheeleroperahouse.com/default.asp?wheeler=39.