Press release from Organic Records:
Arden, North Carolina (April 28, 2019) — Tellico’s Anya Hinkle took home first place in this year’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest in the Bluegrass category with “Ballad of Zona Abston,” a song based on a true story of a woman who grew up in a mining town in middle Tennessee.
With evocative wordcraft and imagery, Hinkle tells of the lack of education, health care and job security — and the poverty — that resulted when a once booming business shut down.
Hinkle’s longtime friend Jack Stoddart, known as “Hippie Jack” (Jammin’ At Hippie Jack’s), invited her to meet Zona at his home on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee.
“Zona told me her life story over her kitchen table,” says Hinkle. “It illustrates her strong will to survive through decades of crisis, stress and difficulty and reflects the desperation of struggling people, particularly women. When you really listen to what someone’s been through, you naturally develop a lot of compassion for what people have to deal with in this world. It was a story I had to put to song.”
The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, now in its 27th year, allows up-and-coming songwriters to perform for a panel of music industry professionals and serves to give talented songwriters exposure. Hinkle performed the song in the final round of competition at MerleFest on Friday for judges Cruz Contreras (The Black Lillies), Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan (The Milk Carton Kids), and Radney Foster.
“On my way to the contest I had called Zona to tell her I was about to sing our song for the competition. She said ‘OK honey I’ll be a-prayin’ for ya. That should help.’ But honestly the reason I called Zona was to help remind myself that the real power of this song is her story, which she had to live every day of,” says Hinkle.
“John’s support was tremendously helpful in bringing 120% of ourselves to the song, to the audience, pouring love into every lyric, looking at each judge, at all my good friends that had come to support me, keeping Zona central in my mind,” says Hinkle.
Watch Hinkle’s contest performance here.
After her win, she and Doyle performed a set on the Cabin Stage for an audience looking to make musical discoveries on Saturday.
“All told, this is the fourth time I’ve performed at MerleFest, but the first that I’ve felt truly part of the spirit of MerleFest,” says Hinkle. “It’s a special way to engage with the festival because it honors a beautiful artist, Chris Austin, whose life was cut tragically short, and the competition carries weight of that. It also honors songwriting as a craft, as judged by some of the finest artists in the music industry today. Lastly, the finals draw a special kind of hard-core MerleFest fan, the ones that have attended annually for more years than they’d probably like to count. Being one of the finalists was like being in a sort of special graduating class of lovely and creative people that I admire tremendously.”“Ballad Of Zona Abston” has already earned 3rd place honors earlier this year in the Hazel Dickens Songwriting Contest. The song is from Tellico’s latest album, Woven Waters, from Organic Records.
Instead of modernizing tradition, Tellico takes it deeper, effortlessly weaving meaningful, imaginative songwriting with intelligent arrangements. There is no gimmick here, and yet, there is nothing tired or cliche. Tellico explores the beauty of songcraft through the lens of tradition and an unmistakable sound. Their freshman effort Relics and Roses was well-received, gathering accolades from tastemakers and earning them stage appearances at the country’s most prestigious festivals (MerleFest, Bristol Rhythm & Roots, Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival, Official Showcase Artist and World of Bluegrass-IBMA). Their most recent album, Woven Waters, reached the top of the Folk DJ charts within a month of its release. The Asheville, NC-based band debuted as the No. 1 Artist and also had the No. 2 Album of the Month and the No. 1 Song of the Month with “Courage For The Morning.”