Another local guitar pickin' poet. Songwriters. They're pretty much omnipresent in these parts. Whether it's a strumming solo man or a minor-chord-pounding pianiste, there are people writing music around every corner in this unsuspecting town. That reclusive neighbor of yours? Yup. He very well might be crafting a rock opera out in the garage, which hopefully explains those 2 a.m. sousaphone soliloquies.
But you know what? These people tend to know what they're doing here in Bend when it comes to song construction. At least that's what Dennis Plant says. Plant isn't merely the treasurer of the Central Oregon Songwriters Association (COSA), he's also a musician himself and the owner of Bon Vivant Studios in Tumalo where he records local artists. He says that COSA's Song of the Year Awards Show slated for the Tower Theatre on Saturday night will be, in a way, similar to a local version of the Grammys...minus, of course, the eye-coveringly-awkward Jonas Brothers/Stevie Wonder duet, among other things.
Not only will the show be the unveiling site for the Best Song winners in 10 different categories, it will also feature one-song performances by 25 different artists vying for the coveted Audience Choice Award. But this is less than a third of the 67 total entries into the contest - all of which come from COSA members, a requirement for entry-as not everyone chooses to perform his or her song live at the awards ceremony. Previously, the ceremony and concert was held in a cramped room at McMenamins, but the gradual growth of the organization over the past 11 years had sent it looking for a new venue. And it found that in the Tower.
"It's going to be fun to see our peers going under trial by fire, especially at the Tower where most of these people have never played," says a laughing Plant, who in addition to being a professional magician also happens to be the proud uncle of cunning Person People emcee Mez.
The range of entrants into the annual COSA challenge stretches from those still cutting their teeth by mastering a three-chord progression to some actual professional musicians. In fact, Andy Armer, Bend's jazz music laureate and longtime COSA supporter, has entered a song in this year's competition. This yearly competition gives Plant a chance to reflect on the quality of our region's musical talent, something he has unabashedly high hopes for.
"I feel like somebody is going to break out big time and I've had that feeling for a few years. Somebody in our town is going to do that soon," Plant says.
COSA has an aim beyond this once-a-year awards show, Plant says. The group holds monthly meetings with guest speakers discussing a wide range of songwriting and music business issues. The group also serves as a vehicle for local songwriters to find collaboration opportunities, which Plant says he's benefited from in the past.
The overall contest is overseen by a team of 16 judges who pore over scores of entries, looking for pure songwriting beauty. Last year, this very writer happened to be a judge for the COSA awards and I would be remiss if I didn't say the task of judging was overwhelming. These entries range from pop rock to folk cuts so old timey that I had to make sure I didn't accidentally bump my head on the bathroom wall and inadvertently activate my flux capacitor. In a word, surveying the complete catalogue of COSA entrants is a testament to the range of styles being produced in Central Oregon. And perhaps the most rewarding aspect of COSA's awards is that the organization is so open in its interpretation of what makes a great song.
"I think it's not just singer-songwriters, it's just more about the broad idea of songwriting as a whole," says Plant.
Central Oregon Songwriters Association Awards
and Performance Ceremony
7pm Friday, April 3. Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St. $10, children under 12 free. Also includes a silent auction.