Love lost. Love gained. New acquaintances. Personal triumphs.
Those were just some of the topics that inspired some of the music performed during the “Weekend of Songs: Songwriters’ Festival” at the Local Blend Aug. 24-26. It was the second year for the event that celebrates the songwriter and allows him or her to share their journeys through their music. About 200 people attended the event this year.
The event draws talent from throughout Minnesota and beyond. Headliners Tom VandenAvond from Austin, Texas, and Soda Gardocki from Knights Ferry, Calif., stopped in Friday to perform while touring in the area. Minneapolis songwriter Courtney Yasmineh performed during the event for the first time this year.
“It’s an honor to be here,” Yasmineh said. “I’m so glad they invited me. I hope they invite me next year.”
Those in attendance got to hear about her oldest daughter who also writes music and is currently in New York. The mother of three sings in a rock band.
Other performances throughout the weekend included Leon Laudenbach trading songs with Rena Haus, local John Larson and the band Collective Unconscious.
Organizers Adam Hammer and Dave Cofell opened the weekend of music by performing some of their work in-the-round. Hammer would share a song and then Cofell would belt out one of his tunes. They would chime in and help each other on the chorus or through an instrument.
There was no set list. They performed what they felt.
“This is great,” Hammer said. “The best part is when the crowd is quiet, and you know they are actually listening to what the songwriter is saying.”
There were many moments like the one Hammer describes. There were also times when the crowd clapped and sang with the singers. Heads nodded to the rhythms coming from the back of the Local Blend and feet tapped to familiar melodies that include folk and blues genres.
“It’s going really well,” Cofell said during the opening night. “People are having a good time.”
Cathy Kongloth has been writing for about six years. The 18-year-old is a self-taught guitarist and also plays the ukulele. She has performed during Open-Mic night at the Local Blend before, but this was her first Weekend of Songs. She was glad she participated.
“It was fun,” Kongloth. said. “I was a little nervous but I liked it.”
Kongloth sang some of her songs with the help of Hammer and Cofell.
New to the event this year was an 18-hour Songwriters Challenge. Attendees had the opportunity to drop song-theme suggestions in a hat when they arrived. It was announced Aug. 25, and performers came back on Aug. 26 to debut their creations. Six songwriters stepped up to the challenge of writing a song with “Prince Harry” as the theme.
They were judged on a scale of one to five. Specifically, the criteria were originality, artistic merit, performance and use of the theme.
Hammer said there were a lot of quirky themes thrown in the bunch, but the royalty was selected. Featured performers from the previous day helped judge the challenge. Nathan Ness of Cold Spring won the challenge. The prize was a ukulele courtesy of Hams Music. Monique Heiserich won second place in the challenge; Doug Millaway took third place.
“He worked really hard,” Hammer said of Ness. “He earned it.”
Ness was also one of the songwriters to perform on the first night of the weekend-long event. It was his first time attending. He’s been participating in the Open-Mic Night event at the Local Blend for a year. The 18-year-old has been writing songs for three years. While his inspiration is free flowing, he said he likes to take his time and really think about what he’s going to write about before composing. This process brought him some success.
Liam Cofell-Dwyer enjoyed what he heard at the event last year so he came again. The 20-year-old from Cold Spring likes local music and frequents the Local Blend often. While he attends in support of his uncle Dave Cofell, he thinks it’s fantastic what the event provides for participants.
“I feel like Open Mic is for those just starting out,” Cofell-Dwyer said. “The Weekend of Songs is for those who want to take a step up. Songwriting is about building community. The community here is so supportive.”
The challenge was Hammer’s favorite part of the event.
“Today we had six world-premiere performances at the Local Blend,” Hammer said. “Overall, I think it was successful.”
Some attended just to listen to what the songwriters came up with. It was a good time.
There will definitely be a third annual Weekend of Songs. Organizers just have to set the date and start planning.
“The goal is to be bigger and better,” Hammer said.