Ironfest draws around 15,000 people to Lithgow each year for a weekend of arts, metal, history and mayhem. This year, things began early with a hugely popular weekly singer songwriter night tied into the festival.
The Ironfest Singer Songwriter Competition has been running at Lithgow’s Court House Hotel at 7pm on Wednesday nights since February, and will continue right up to Ironfest itself on April 21 and 22.
Local singer songwriter Leanne Hawkins is the organiser of this new and popular event.
As a performer herself, Ms Hawkins knows really supportive local performance opportunities are often hard to come by.
“After performing throughout the Central West for many years and now a singer songwriter, I have always realised just how cut-throat the music industry is and how hard it is to be supported or nurtured in this field and more so in area of competitions,” she said.
The nature of many performance competitions also worried her and she was determined to make this competition a positive one for everyone involved.
“Over the years I had often witnessed this process leaving many up and coming artists in the debris, which sometimes destroyed that person's creative process,” Ms Hawkins said.
“Seeing so many artists who could've been really great fall, I wanted to have a competition where we support and nurture all our musicians, no matter what level they are at.”
She’s roped in some influential names to support the competition.
Eliot Boyd Reynolds from Song Cave Studios (www.songcave.net) has donated a full day recording as part of first prize. Second prize is cash and vocal lessons with Lelly K; and third is cash and an impressive package of Songwriting Society of Australia (SSA) membership for a year, plus a two-hour strategic planning sessions with the President of SSA to produce a business plan. There’s also a wild card prize of a full day recording at Sound Shed Studios (www.soundshedmusic.com).
Along with local judges the competition has attracted the likes of Hollywood actor, singer, writer and movie producer Tiana Alexandra and award-winning Australian country music artist Rod Dowsett.
The prizes and the performance opportunities have hit a cord with musicians, with entrants travelling long distances to participate.
“We are really surprised, we have had a wide range of entrants travelling from Sydney, Penrith, Hunter Valley, Blue Mountains, Bathurst and as far out as Cowra,” Ms Hawkins said.
The musical styles represented have been just a varied: from country, pop, rock, folk, ballads, alternative funk and heavy metal.
There have been over 40 entries to the heats with semi-finals on April 4 and 11 and the grand final on the Saturday night of Ironfest, April 21.
Heat winners have included Aidan Abby (Mt Victoria), Emma Woulters (Katoomba),James Morrision (Penrith), Laura Zarb (Faulconbridge), Shadows At Play (Glenbrook), Clancy (Hunter Valley), Bridget Cama (Lithgow).
Asked to pick a favourite performer Hawkins is diplomatic.
“Honestly, the standard has been really high and they have all been just wonderful. I'm so glad I have nothing to do with the judging. However, being a country singer songwriter, I have really enjoyed Melissa Robertson from Cowra and Clancy from the Hunter Valley.
“Sixteen-year-old Bridget Cama from Lithgow also really astounded the judges with her incredible voice and original song, ‘Gonna Be Alright’.”
Local music, Ms Hawkins explained, has been an important part of Ironfest from the start: “I would literally walk the streets of Lithgow selling advertising in the festival program so we could pay musicians to perform”.
But Hawkins and those behind this competition want to see it rise in prominence across the community. They’ve structured this competition as the first stage of a 2013 Ironfest Music Festival that will run in conjunction with Ironfest itself.
It will include taking music into venues, cafes and restaurants of Lithgow throughout the Ironfest weekend.
“The plans are to have this event evolve every year and build it into one of the most recognized prestigious singing, song writing events on Australia's music festival calendar,” Ms Hawkins said. Details www.ironfest.com.au