Six years ago, the John Hartford Memorial Festival was born. Four years ago, a songwriting contest was added. Unique in that, “to continue honoring the legacy of our festival namesake and inspiration, the late John Hartford, we challenge the entrants to write about John Hartford or include his name or song titles in the body of the lyrics. This encourages writers to dig and study and learn about this great American icon we call the Father of Newgrass.” Ernie Hill, JHMF contest coordinator. This contest has grown fast, filling the 25 entry slots soon after the initial announcement that the contest is open. Entrants must enter online at the fest website and are pre-judged. There are still a few slots left as of this writing. The top five winners perform their winning song in a Main Stage showcase at the festival, win cash, handmade trophies, hospitality meals, handmade Cloud Shadow Jewelry, festival tickets, consideration for booking (all entries are considered!), and an invitation to return the next year to perform in that year’s showcase. To kick off this initial return invitation, the previous first place winners were invited to return and perform.
Winning the contest was a positive for each as the fest posts the showcase winners music, and first place winners bio, video and music, permanently on the website and refers to this for promo throughout the year.

Scott Carnder

Scott Carnder, of Cincinatti Ohio, the first winner’s song, “Hartford’s Bend” was written about the bend on the Cumberland River where John Hartford used to hang out and watch and talk to the riverboats coming downstream. Scott has this to say about the John Hartford Memorial Festival and Songwriting Competition, "JHMF is a wonderful festival that really feels imbued with John Hartford's spirit. The lineups are remarkably diverse, yet can all be tied back to some aspect of his music, which makes for an incredibly dynamic and entertaining festival experience. As for the songwriting contest, I would encourage anyone to enter. John's songs are all very personal. They're fun, experimental, bittersweet, nostalgic. They're him. They're unique and idiosyncratic. Yours can be, too. If you mean it, it'll be a good tune.”

The second year winner was Jeff Daugherty who resides in Waldfischbach-Burgalben, Germany. Jeff is booked this year at JHMF. The passing of Pete Mergard, who had become Jeff's best friend and a father figure, took a great toll on his emotions, leading Jeff to completely stray away from music for months.  “The first music I reached for, when the time came, was my John Hartford albums.” Jeff said. The song, “Dear John”, was entered in the 2014 John Hartford Songwriting Competition, and won 1st place. Jeff says, “After performing the song at the 2014 JHMF I was offered numerous solo-gig opportunities, which was a first for me.”

Jeff Daugherty

Winning the 2014 John Hartford Songwriting Competition gave my new solo career a much needed boost, not to mention adding a legitimacy to my work as a songwriter. It opened doors to opportunities
almost instantly, and definitely opened more ears to me and my music. I will forever be grateful and hold that award very dear to my heart.”

Last year’s winner, Jeremy Francis of Loveland CO, placed in each of the previous contests. About songwriting Jeremy says, “I tend to write more off the cuff, emotionally most of the time. Usually about a moment in time, a feeling or something I felt strongly about. Random poetry has a way of turning into songs for me a lot.” About winning, he says, “ I feel great! Validation and recognition is something that every artist needs. It makes me feel that all of the daydreaming about being a full time musician isn't so silly. It has also inspired me to keep practicing and digging in the ditches to achieve my musical goals. This is one of the best festivals that I have ever been to. Not only is it in memory of one of my biggest musical influences, its also very friendly and super laid back. I've made some great friends and memories at JHMF! Bill Monroe Music park is a beautiful location and the campfire jams are stellar... If you haven't been you're really missing out."

Jeremy Francis

You can hear these winning songs and our top showcase songs and see some cool video by clicking here!
The John Hartford Memorial Festival is held each year at the Bill Monroe Music Park and Campground, Bean Blossom, Indiana, central in region to many major music hubs such as Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville TN, St. Louis MO, Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville and Cincinatti. The festival is a great event for musicians to come jam and be heard. Promoters Tom Burkhart, John Hotze and Randy Kilper not only book John Hartford connected headliners, but also pour through hundreds of known and unknown musicians for booking. This year’s fest also offers fiddle and banjo contests, whose entrants will also be considered for booking. Limited Full Festival Ticket sales are underway as are Single Day tickets. The Line-up features such headliners as Sam Bush, Leftover Salmon, The Dillards, The Steel Wheels, Great American Taxi, The Travelin’ McCourys, and around 40 more Bluegrass and Roots artists. All contest and ticket info is here.