El Paso Song Writing Contest 2016


Very few gigs in town celebrate original content. Even fewer of them encourage and appreciate the process of its creation. Any artist in this town understands El Paso has a tremendous amount of work to do when it comes to respecting artists’ original work, whether by promoting it or simply by accepting that it shouldn’t, by default, be free.

The El Paso Song Writing Contest (EPSWC) is thus  a different animal.  It focuses precisely on promoting the craft. And when it comes to the local arts scene, its founder, Grant Collinsworth, has proven to be a consistent supporter and advocate for the meaning and value of original, dissenting, eccentric, honest, and/or visionary voices. But, it’s his loving and tumultuous relationship with the craft of songwriting, that Collinsworth most often finds himself wrestling with and it was that passion that birthed the EPSWC in 2012. 

This event happens every fall and is happening again this weekend at the exciting new venue Star City Studios. The premise for the event is not only to showcase local, up and coming, original talent, but to engage in a dialogue of it in real time. Artists sign up, play their song, and are given feedback by a panel of three judges. The judges base their feedback on different characteristics of the craft and how well the song stands on its own. By the end of the night the panel will give our prizes based on the following categories:


Each year the event grows and better understands itself. There are many complexities in live music and especially in the accommodation for all participants and their varying instrumentation. The contest welcomes different and all genres from: hard rock/progressive to alternative/indie to folk and country/blues, to hip hop and more. What better place to have a myriad of musical styles than a professional recording studio right in the heart of E.P. with state of the art capabilities.

Star City Studio Productions is a new state of the art full service recording studio /art gallery and the home of Olchefski Art and Monk Drums. This new hidden gem, is located in the Montecillo District in El Paso, Texas.

The facility is fully and ideally equipped for this kind of event. The location had been the Scott Martin Recording Studio in the eighties and has now upgraded, modified, re-invented itself for the modern music industry expectations.  It will be here that a list of local talent will courageously put themselves under circumstances not for the faint of heart allowing, after all, their creations to be examined, critiqued, and viewed through a lens of tradition, ingenuity, and craft. There is a free tour of the studio at 5:30 p.m. the day of the event.

Collinsworth a man of strong views on mostly anything, particularly music, is not afraid to venture into new and challenging ideas and to dedicate time to a vision, a concept that he sees as a worthy venture for audience and artist alike. In an interview with the Rift in 2014, Grant Collinsworth explains an aspect of what he’s reaching for.

“We are in a misinformation age and we have a lot of hostilities provoked.  If we can get past that, learn the truth of the thing, see things from a clear perspective we can subside with pain. The way to do that through music is as an artist is be honest about what you are seeing and being honest about a solution. Look at the religious war, the political war.  It is invoking a lot of emotional hostility.  I think that is the pain that we are universally trying to reconcile.”

And boy, the world sure has changed since 2014, seen its fair share of conflict, tension, and difficult decisions.  In a modern society, there is plenty to reconcile.

One of the judges, local songwriter herself and for many years the voice of KTEP’s State of the Art, Monica Gomez,  will be judging for the third year and considers Star City Studios “the perfect venue” for the competition. The judges have a difficult task here. They listen and provide feedback in real time, looking at how words and music are working together to present a stand alone finished song.

“I must try to disregard everything" says Monica Gomez, "but the words and the music, which is not easy. In each song, I listen for a combination of words and music that demonstrates both the writer’s deliberate skill and an instinctive understanding of how to elicit a response from the listener. Ultimately, a good song – like all good art – makes us feel something."

Monica Gomez describes the most difficult part of the judging as “keeping consistent criteria in mind through the evening so that I’m holding the song to the same standard.”

And in the two years the Rift has been part of this competition we have seen so many songs that stand out, voices in the development stage, musicians fine tuning their own visions,  experimenting with genre and structure. 

 “What I am trying to do here,” Collinsworth told the Rift “is not the American Idol thing.  These particular judges are masters at what they do, what the younger artists don't understand is they are getting 150 years of wizardry from these guys.  They are the top of the heap and are giving solid advice to these musicians.  It is hard, because as a songwriter these are your babies, and you are hearing “I don't like that diaper, those booties.” "

This year, Collinsworth is just as excited about the event. This year it's happening in a new homegrown recording studio and gallery, there is a talented and varied roster of registered contestants and as part of the opening entertainment, Collinsworth himself will perform with the Blue Poet Souls, and special guests cellist Jack Chessa, and Alex Garcia of the Hypocrite Orchestra. The event will be hosted by local poet and spoken word master, MC,Richie Maruffo. 

Join the Song Writing Contest this year at Star City Studios October 1st at 7:00 p.m. There will be soft drinks and tres leches cake to munch on.

When: Sat Oct 1, 7:00 p.m.

Where: Star City Studios, 120 W. Castellano

 $10 cover at the door.




Mari GomezComment