When Christina Daugherty was 17 and a high school student, she would sneak into Knoxville’s Preservation Pub’s open mic night and introduce her music to all who would listen.
Years later, after graduating college and now teaching English and journalism at L&N STEM Academy, she’s still seeking out venues, but as an adult and with just as much passion.
She, and 16 other area songwriters, took the stage Saturday, Feb. 8, as Vienna Coffee House hosted a qualifying round in the Second Annual Tennessee Songwriters Week. The Tennessee Department of Tourism started the competition in 2019 with the intention of making it an annual contest for area songwriters.
“Honestly, my dream as a musician is to get as far as I can,” Daughtery, who goes by Redd Daugherty on stage, said. “My dream job would be creating music and performing — it is much, much more than a hobby.”
She said a friend put the idea in her head to set the goal of one day playing for NPR’s Tiny Desk. “I think I have adopted this dream/goal.”
This was the first time Vienna was selected as a qualifying venue, said Karen E. Reynolds, who serves as the talent buyer/booking agent for the Maryville coffee house. Every seat in the venue was packed as audience members came to hear live music from 17 different songwriters. The maximum number of performers was set at 20.
Rising to the top
The list of competitors included Harry McCarthy, Caleb Dennis, Cassey Smith, Brad Austin, Michael deLisle, Alicia Harvey-Vetrone, Rose Hawley, Rance Singleton, Donovan Howard, RT Hall, Jeff Wells, Taylor Parker, Daugherty, Sarah Motes Ashley, Marlin Brackett, Perry Bonck and Bob Sutton.
The music ran the gamut of country, folk, contemporary Christian, blues, jazz, Americana and adult contemporary, Reynolds said. She said a majority of the songwriters are from East Tennessee, specifically Knoxville and surrounding counties.
“We also had participants from Georgia and Alabama,” Reynolds said. She said those participants follow her social media posts and learned of the event via her promotion for sign-ups.
Daugherty classifies her sound as Americana or folk, with a hint of jazz. Her influences are songwriters like Norah Jones, Haley Reinhart, Brandi Carlisle and Jack White. She first picked up the guitar at age 12 and got serious about music while in high school. In addition to the guitar, she can play the electric bass and mandolin.
She performed two of her songs, “Middle Class Villain” and “Joy,” which will be on her upcoming album “Monsters and Mothers.”
The winners who were selected to move on to the next round were McCarthy, Bonck, Austin and Daugherty. Two alternates were also chosen — Harvey and Sutton.
They will now perform at one of six regional showcases, where one songwriter from each showcase will be selected to perform at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. Each of the six prize winners will receive a two-night stay in Nashville, two single show tickets to a show at the Bluebird Cafe, a one-year membership to the Nashville Songwriters Association International and a $100 gift card. In addition, each will also receive a branded commemorative guitar.
The six winners will also play their original songs at the Bluebird Cafe on March 29.
Working hard to succeed
Making it past this round thrills Daugherty, who said she already feels like a winner for simply having the experience at Vienna.
“The simple fact we get up every day, as musicians, and continue to write and compose despite our day jobs, multiple day jobs, and chase our aspirations is more than most,” Daugherty said. “But all of that aside, if I made it past the qualifier and on to the Bluebird, I wold feel, I suppose, validated for all of the work that I’ve out into my sound and lyrics. I already feel validated for the music I create from myself and the people that care enough to listen, but it would simply justify that validation.”
The six regional sites (Feb. 23-29) will include Puckett’s in Franklin, Lafayette’s Music Room in Memphis, The Bijou in Knoxville (Feb. 26), Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga, Ole Red in Gatlinburg and the Down Home in Johnson City. The Bluebird Cafe’s long time open-mic night host and songwriter Barbara Cloyd will emcee the showcases and a panel of local judges will select the top songwriter from each event.
Vienna doesn’t typically charge for its music events, Reynolds explained. Tickets that night were $10. Half of every ticket sold when to Blount County Habitat for Humanity.
Reynolds is a professional songwriter and music educator with 30 years in the business. She said she loves to bring events here that focus on original artists. Vienna owner John Clark approached her about ‘stepping up’ the music presented there and to make it more of a venue.
“Since taking over the booking at Vienna, I have made it a point to include as many local and original artists as possible so as to support our local music scene and to provide visibility for the backbone of the entire music industry, i.e. the songwriters,” Reynolds explained.
When opportunities arise
She hosts a songwriters night at Vienna Coffeehouse on the fourth Friday of every month, called Writers Block Songwriters Night, which is named after her radio program. At least six songwriters/original artists are featured each month and there are also many touring artists who participate.
The next Writers Block Songwriters Night will take place at 6 p.m. on Feb. 28.
Vienna, Daugherty said, is a wonderful place for musicians to share their talents. She’s been on stage here before and also regularly performs in Knoxville at places like Preservation Pub, Scruffy City, Soccer Taco, The Double S Wine Bar and the Casual Pint on Union Avenue.
Even though she grew up in Clinton and didn’t move to Knoxville until her college days at the University of Tennessee, Daughterty considers herself a Knoxville native because that is where she feels most at home.
“The Knoxville music scene is extremely supportive of its musicians,” she pointed out. “I would say it is easier to break into music in Knoxville because the musicians here treat everyone like a family. We all attend each other’s shows and support in any way we can.”