It’s all about the song. Whatever the genre, it’s good songwriting that propels the listener to another place, sparks the imagination, and opens the heart.

The Telluride Troubadour Competition, one of the crown jewels of the glittering summer-gold tiara that is the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, attracts singer-songwriters from every corner of the United States (and sometimes from points much farther away). It is a prestigious contest in which emerging and independent artists submit two original songs in hopes of making the round of 10 that are invited to Telluride for the two, final rounds.

This year’s finalists hail from places as scattered as Brooklyn, Long Beach, California, Philadelphia and Utah. Folk music hotbeds Nashville and Texas are represented and one lucky singer-songwriter from Wisconsin will be here to take the place of a finalist from Virginia who could not. And her chances of coming out on top are just as good as anyone else’s who made the cut.

You see, they’re all very, very talented. Part of the competition is that you must also sing and perform your songs – just you, your guitar (or other instrument) and your song. Judging is based on the quality of the composition, vocal delivery and how it is presented. And the artists are instructed to come with a quiver of songs, as two different songs per round are expected on the Elks Park stage in downtown Telluride where they entertain the assembled crowd. And then there’s the live performance on KOTO throughout the festival weekend that is part of making it to the final 10. It’s a busy weekend.

But by Friday afternoon, when the top five finalists perform for a small panel of judges comprised of radio station music directors and visiting musicians, one artist walks away with a custom Shanti guitar, a fistful of cash, a main stage slot on Sunday and bragging rights for a lifetime.

Past winners include Libby Kirkpatrick (1999) and Nels Andrews (2006), two artists whose careers continued their ascensions after Telluride. Both boast critically acclaimed recordings, additional singer-songwriter competition awards, studio work with other artists and busy touring schedules. For winners and runners-up, there is definitely life after the bluegrass festival.

Before the festival, one song from each finalist can be heard at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival website:

Give them all a listen beforehand and come to Elks Park Thursday and Friday afternoon of the festival to cheer on your favorite. (You don’t need a festival pass to attend Elks Park performances and workshops.)

But here’s the rub … they will all be your favorites.

They all know it’s about the song.

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