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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Dave’s Darkhorse Tavern hosts songwriting showcase

Dave’s Darkhorse Tavern  hosted the 2016 Cotton District Singer Songwriter Competition Showcase last Thursday when 10 different musicians took the stage to perform original compositions before both a crowd of patrons and a panel of judges. 

Andrew Rendon, director of assessment in Student Affairs at MSU, who has chaired the committee in charge of putting on this annual event, said the contestants were judged not only by their songwriting ability but also on their showmanship as a whole. 

This year, first time contestant but life-long musician Bill Cooke, who’s has not quit his day job as the Department Head of Geosciences at MSU took first place with his autobiographical song “Slip Me a Dollar.” 

“It accounts a time when I was on the road during my early years around 20 years old,” Cooke said. “It kind of is baring my soul. It really just came out in a rush, the song had been writing itself for years and all kind of came out at once.”

Cooke, who will soon turn 64, said he started playing guitar when he was eight and was writing songs by 12. He said most of what he performs while onstage with bands such as Can of Worms are covers, but winning this competition has made him consider adding more of his originals to his setlist. 

“You’re sharing your personal thoughts,” Cooke said. “And that is kind of hard sometimes. It’s not always pretty, sweet or easy.”

Carly Clayton, based out of Tupelo, took second place with her songs “Boy to Blame” and “Drifter,” which she said both draw heavily from her personal life experiences. 

“‘Boy to Blame’ talks about why girls go out in makeup, with their hair curled, and why they are heartbroken,” Clayton said. “It’s because there is a boy to blame.”

She said she has been playing music since she was two years old and currently is in a two-piece band called Tupelo College Girls as well as performing solo gigs whenever they are not able to play together. 

Brent Varner took third place this year with his song “The Gov’ner,” which he described as a story detailing an 1800’s outlaw who killed a governor. Varner works at MSU as a Disability Support Coordinator and actively plays in several different groups- primarily as a bassist. 

“I thought this year was great,” Varner said. “Last year was awesome but this year the contestants were great. I was really suprised to place considering the caliber of the other contestants.”

Keatzi Gunmoney, a producer who’s set up shop in Starkville, also co-chaired the event alongside Rendon and the competition achieved its goal of putting a focus on the performance of the musicians as well as writing ability. 

“To me it’s more about the performance,” Gunmoney said. “They got so into it this year, it was great. Everyone performed really well. Bill is obviously a fantastic songwriter.” 

Rendon said he considered this year’s showcase to be an “overwhelming” success.

“It was exactly what I wanted to accomplish,” Rendon said. “Outside of the competition itself it was really a night of good music, and that’s what is important.” 

He said this year they introduced a new element to the competition, the ‘fan-favorite’ members of the audience were given the opportunity to vote for at the end of the night after everyone had played. The crowd filled out slips with their pick of the performers, and the judges took the poll into consideration when selecting the winner.

Rendon said he hopes the competition will continue to grow, and said he thinks his biggest problem next year will be a good one – having to trim down a growing list of applicants. 

The three finalists, in addition to winning cash prizes, were awarded 15 minute slots on the west stage to perform April 16 during the Cotton District Arts Festival starting with Varner at noon followed by Clayton and finally Cooke at the end of the hour. 



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Dave’s Darkhorse Tavern hosts songwriting showcase