Songwriters’ festival leads to career
Last year’s Lyrics on the Lake Open-Mic Contest changed the lives of the members of Back Creek, the winning band. The three-member group had never performed in public before last year’s competition. Now members of the band are making the move to Nashville, for a career in the music industry.
Drew Lagan, Chase McDaniel and Joel Willard, all from Roanoke, entered the contest last year after hearing about it from one of Drew’s friends. They thought, “Why not? What do we have to lose?” Lagan sings and McDaniel plays the guitar. They started playing and singing together in the summer of 2016.
“It was not something we took seriously we just did it for fun,” said McDaniel of the jam sessions with Lagan. “The other guitar player Joel, we grew up playing together in church.”
The Lyrics on the Lake Songwriters Festival presents the annual open-microphone competitions for aspiring singers, giving local talent and out of towners who make the trip to the lake, the opportunity to compete for a trip to Nashville that includes a writing session with professional songwriters and a showcase at one of Nashville’s best venues. There are five competitions in the weeks leading up to the annual festival. The winners from each night compete for the grand prize as a part of the opening night concert.
Each artist must perform original songs and have their own instruments or accompaniment. McDaniel had only been writing songs for about six months before the contest and the three members had only been playing together for three weeks. At the start of the contest they only had one song they felt confident in performing in front of an audience.
“I said, ‘that’s alright just play the same song,’ but while everyone else was competing they went out and learned a few more songs,” said Brent Jones, Media Coordinator of Lyrics on the Lake of Back Creek. “That’s how much they wanted to win this thing.”
“We didn’t really know when or how much we would be playing,” remembered McDaniel. “We were kind of getting stuff together as they told us. We’d get in the car and try to come up with whatever we could as fast as we could.”
“One of the big factors is their determination,” said Jones. “They worked really hard to win the contest. When they came to the very first contest last year they did not know what to expect. They didn’t know anything about the contest except that they wanted to be in it. They hadn’t performed in public before, they were brand spankin’ new.”
Back Creek wins a trip to Nashville
Back Creek won that night to become a finalist. When it came time to compete in the finals they had six songs in their repertoire. As a part of their prize they played at the Smith Mountain Lake Wine Festival and of course had that songwriting session with a Nashville songwriter and a gig in the Music City at Belcourt Taps.
“They have what they call Writin’ Around and it is basically just songwriters,” said McDaniel. “About every hour three different songwriters will come up and play songs and tell stories about the songs. It was really cool to be around all that talent.”
This year Back Creek will be one of the acts performing at the Lyrics on the Lake Songwriters Festival. The opening concert and the open-mic finals are June 13th at 8 p.m. at Mango’s. This year there will be at least eight shows taking place at four different venues around Smith Mountain Lake during the five-day festival. You can find a complete schedule at lyricsonthelake.com.
Children benefit from songwriters’ festival
The Lyrics on the Lake Songwriters Festival is a fundraiser, primarily for the benefit of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. The donations collected at the festival will be used locally by Carilion Children’s, Centra Virginia Baptist and Lynchburg General hospitals.
“It is the largest songwriters’ festival on the east coast,” said Jones. “And it brings in a lot of revenue to our venues. It is also culturally significant to because music has always been important in this area, for example the Crooked Road and it all [the festival] started to help children with medical issues.”
“The festival has people who have written songs for singers like Tim McGraw and Rascal Flats,” said McDaniel. “It was just really cool to be immersed in all that. I feel like it gave us something to reach for.”
Now McDaniel treats songwriting like work. He writes for five to six hours a day. He and Lagan are moving to Nashville, in September. Willard has not decided yet if he wants to make the move.
Lyrics on the Lake Songwriters Festival