John Hartford Memorial Festival Announces Songwriting Contest Winners


Jeff Daugherty
Jeff Daugherty

The John Hartford Memorial Festival has announced the winners of their 2nd Annual John Hartford Songwriting Contest. The top three winners will receive two passes to the festival and perform their original song on the main stage onFriday, May 30. “These songs were all very well crafted and extremely difficult to score,” said Ernie Hill, contest organizer. “We are ecstatic to see the influence that John Hartford has had in every one of these fine songs. I’ve scored many songwriting contests over the years. Our scorers for this year’s contest agreed that the submissions were all very good in creativity and melodic quality.”

The winners submitted original songs that either mentioned John Hartford or one of his song titles in the body of the song. Contestants were scored according to content, not performance or recording quality. This year’s top seven songwriting contest winners are:

1st place: Jeff Daugherty – “Dear John”

2nd place: Wes Duffy – “Hartland”

3rd place: Thomas Poley – “Radio John”

4th place: Jeremy Francis – “Thinking About John Hartford”

5th place: Will Kimble – “Sternwheeler Blues”

6th place: Jaybone Bell – “Ode to the River Man”

7th place: Korah Winn – “Chance He Had”

“The purpose of the John Hartford Songwriting Contest is to provide a fun and rewarding activity for songwriters and the festival attendees while furthering the preservation of the legacy of John Hartford and his music,” said Ernie. The winners were chosen by a panel of six scorers who graded each song by a pre-determined set of guidelines and criteria. “We prefer to use the term ‘scorer’ instead of ‘judge’ for our contest,” Ernie shared. “We believe that in art and music, the term ‘judge’ is not applicable to a person’s work of art. So we award points for originality, melody, and content, and the best score wins.”

They require each writer to write a song using John Hartford’s name or a song title that appeared on one of his albums. “My hope is that each songwriter who steps up to the challenge will study the music of John Hartford, which would lead them to discover volumes of printed information, opinions, and music, and that they will discover the connection between the music they play and the root from which it was directly or indirectly influenced, namely, by the Father of New Grass, John Hartford,” Ernie explained.

“This contest will spread the legacy and music of John Hartford, like the wake of a stern-wheel steamboat on the Mississippi River, into the noggins of every one that it reaches,” he continued. “Thanks to cyberspace, we can easily spread our intent, which is to celebrate, educate, and share the music, life, and legacy of one of Americana music’s most beloved trend setting, genre-busting personalities, the late John Hartford.”

First place winner, Jeff Daugherty, is from Cheyenne, WY, and is a massage therapist and musician.  The second place winner, Wes Duffy, is from Peoria, IL, and is a decorative floor and wall artist, and musician. The third place winner, Thomas Poley, is from Tucson, AZ and is in heavy-equipment sales and plays music as a hobby.

“Hartford’s influence did not come until I was late in my teens,” said Jeff Daugherty. “I admire his creativity and unique, fun-loving personality most of all. His words have been there skipping beside me on the best of days, as well as holding my hand through the dark times. Being able to share this song, which Mr. Hartford definitely helped me write, on stage at Bean Blossom as the winning song is truly beyond words for me” he said.

“I first heard John Hartford on the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” said Tomas Poley. “Through the years, I’ve collected almost all of John’s vinyl releases. John’s success as a somewhat unconventional writer inspires me a lot to do things the way I feel them and not worry about conventional expectations,” he said.

“I was deeply moved by the creativity of all of the songwriters,” said Ernie. “Some wrote stories about John Hartford or the John Hartford Memorial Festival. Some used a song title that appeared on one of John Hartford’s records and built a song around that title. Each of our 22 contestants did outstanding work,” he concluded.

You can listen to the all of contestant’s songs, including last year’s contestants, on the festival website jukebox at