It was a dark and story night … on Sunday, Nov. 23, when the Brown Bag Songwriting Competition’s 11-week run culminated in a final show. That event brought back the winner from each of the previous nights for a shot at the title, along with cash and prizes.
So, like the weather, competition was fierce. And by the end of the night Brittany Ann Tranbaugh walked away victorious. Though, for the recent Asheville transplant, it sounds like the contest was more about artistry and connections within the local songwriting community than killer instinct. “It was such a good show. Everyone who played was incredible,” she says. “I got in touch with some really great people.”
The 11 finalists — Trambaugh, Daniel Shearin, Alex Taylor and Warren Costello, Matt Townsend, Matt Sellars, Utah Green, Corey Parlamento aka Living Dog, Dan Block aka Endymion is the Moon, Sven Hooson, Searra Gisondo and Daydream Creatures — each played a two-song round. They were narrowed down to three contenders: Shearin, Green and Tranbaugh, who each sang one more selection.
The winning song was “I Guess I’m Moving On.” Tranbaugh says she went into the contest planning to intuit the mood of the crowd and her fellow competitors, choosing songs accordingly as the evening unfolded. “But when we got there, they asked us to write down our song titles,” she says. “You kind of have to be strategic. You want the songs to flow, to complement each other and show different facets of your skills.”
Tranbaugh is from Eastern Pennsylvania. She attended Temple University in Philadelphia and involved herself in that city’s songwriter scene but also traces her personal music history back to the venue Godfrey Daniels in her hometown, Bethlehem. “It’s a folk music listening room,” she says. “I love playing shows there.” Even before she sung her first note, Tranbaugh was inspired by her music-fanatic parents — especially her father who sang to her and acquainted her with his record collection, populated by songwriters like Harry Chapin, John Denver and Judy Collins.
Tranbaugh’s first introduction to Western North Carolina came by way of a visit to the Swannanoa Gathering two summers ago. “I took some amazing songwriting workshops there,” she says. When an opportunity to return to the area with AmeriCorps presented itself, Tranbaugh accepted the position. She moved to WNC in August and works at ArtSpace Charter School where, among other responsibilities, she teaches a singer-songwriter course to seventh- and eighth-graders.
That keeps her focused on music, but connecting with local artists is also a priority. “The Brown Bag has been a wonderful way to meet people,” says Tranbaugh. “Within 15 minutes of walking in, I recognized one person, and another person told me they have a songwriting circle every week.”
Included in her prize is studio time — Tranbaugh has a year to use it, so she is currently working on more writing and honing her craft. More immediate is the chance to share a bill with local roots trio Underhill Rose at an Asheville Music Professionals event on Thursday, Dec. 11. The Producers Roundtable features Jeff Balding, Vance Powell, Shannon Sanders, Steven Heller, Jerry Douglas and Michael Selverne (who, between them, have worked with Doc Watson, The White Stripes, John Legend, Taylor Swift and Alison Krauss, among others). It starts at 6 p.m. at Echo Mountain Recording, 175 Patton Ave., and is free to attend — but space is limited, so RSVP here.
While winning this season’s Brown Bag is a major accomplishment — and Tranbaugh’s enthusiasm is palpable — the real excitement for this singer-songwriter is in what’s to come. Thinking back to Sunday’s competition she says, “I didn’t go in there with any expectations. Just, ‘This is going to be fun.’”