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MARCH 2020

Hello there, my fellow songwriters! Welcome to the first edition of our IBMA Songwriter News of 2020. I hope you all have been able to avoid those mid-winter blues.

With the New Year comes some changes to our IBMA Songwriter Committee. A warm welcome our three new committee members: Ali Shumate, John Lowell, and Daryl Mosley. A big thank you to outgoing members David Morris, Dawn Kenney, Thomm Jutz, and Sherrill Blackman.

Through your hard work we had a fantastic showing at last year's IBMA World Of Bluegrass. Our Songwriter Track was well received, enjoying strong attendance and receiving lots of positive feedback from attendees. We greatly appreciate everyone's ongoing support of our IBMA songwriter activities. We will continue to do our best to serve you to the very best of our ability.

A big thank you to outstanding songwriter and educator Mark Simos for contributing a great new article for this issue of Songwriter News.

If you have any songwriter-related news you would like us to include in a future newsletter, please feel free to contact as far in advance of the event as possible.

Rick Lang
IBMA Songwriter Committee, Chair


Ali Shumate is a singer-songwriter raised in the hills of West Virginia with a passion for mountain music and poetry. Her roots run deep having been classically trained in voice, piano, and woodwinds. Early on she was singing and playing for churches and performing in various bluegrass bands as she found her own voice, writing and singing stories rich in living and strong mountaineer folklore.

Backing other bands through the years, Ali’s first release of original material came in 2006 with Heartbreak Train. In 2018, she signed with Hadley Music Group in Nashville as an artist and with Uncle Hadley Music as a songwriter. She penned her first album on the Hadley label, Every Bit Of Me, with Donna Ulisse and others that was released in June 2019 and continues to be a success on the bluegrass charts.

You can see The Ali Shumate Band performing a lively mix of traditional and original material as she works on a follow-up album with Hadley planned for release in early 2021. For more information, visit

John Lowell is a quadruple threat. He is a clean, dynamic guitar player who has been featured on the cover of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine. He is a clear-voiced singer and is in great demand as a guitar instructor. And, he is a respected songwriter. His songs have been covered by musicians all over the world including Bluegrass, Etc., Bryan Bowers, Anne and Pete Sibley, Valerie Smith, and many more. His heartbreaking ballad "Sarah Hogan" has been covered 14 times. John has toured the world with Kane’s River, the Growling Old Men, and his own John Lowell Band. He is a 2019 graduate of Leadership Bluegrass and happy to be joining this illustrative group. Of his most recent recording,This Long Stretch Of Gravel, Bluegrass Today says, "Credit Lowell with creating a minor masterpiece. If justice prevails, This Long Stretch of Gravel will be a quick route towards wider recognition. It couldn’t be more deserved." For more information, visit

Daryl Mosley has been a part of professional bluegrass music for over 30 years. Throughout the 1990s, he toured over 100 dates a year as the lead vocalist and primary songwriter with the band New Tradition. In 2001, Daryl joined the legendary Osborne Brothers band playing bass and filling out the vocal trio with Bobby and Sonny Osborne. From 2010 to 2019, Daryl was the lead singer, front man, and primary songwriter for his band, The Farm Hands.

Daryl has written six songs that have made it all the way to #1. Bluegrass artist Josh Williams, country music legend Lynn Anderson, and southern gospel trio The Booth Brothers are just a few of the artists who have recorded his originals. In 2006, Daryl’s gospel song “(Ask The Blind Man) He Saw It All” was named one of the top southern gospel songs of all time.

In April 2017, Bluegrass Unlimited did a feature article on Daryl’s songwriting career. Daryl has a brand new Pinecastle album of original songs, The Secret of Life, scheduled to be released May 22, 2020. More information at



If you want to achieve success as a songwriter, nothing is more important than working on your craft—writing good songs. Many sources of information are available about craft aspects of songwriting, such as books, articles, websites, workshops and retreats. For those interested in writing for specific niche markets such as bluegrass or other roots genres, my only caution to you in making use of these resources is: remember that most are oriented towards songwriters aspiring to write in mainstream styles. Thus, they may authoritatively state certain “universal” rules for songwriting that are actually genre-specific nostrums in disguise, and which may not apply so universally. True, some great bluegrass songs reflect these craft principles (and ought to celebrated and studied as masterpiece songs, irrespective of their scruffy roots origins). But other songs may appear to break these conventions—e.g., with no “hook” in the chorus—yet do so artfully and compellingly. And many great songs in our tradition rely on other principles, or templates and models, much less likely to be discussed in more popular songwriting sources.

So work on your craft, by all means—but ground your study by keeping a list of great songs that have caught your ear and heart in particular. I call this my Songs I Wish I’d Written list. It’s one of a number of “songwriter life lists” I describe in the final chapter of my second songwriting book, Songwriting in Practice: Notebooks, Journals, Logs, Lists (Berklee Press 2018).

One happy consequence of keeping an explicit, tangible, written-down Songs I Wish I’d Written list is: it becomes a kind of journal of its own. If you keep songs in the chronological order of when you discovered them, the list provides a window into your evolving “listening history”: your developing awareness of certain writers, artists, genres, and dimensions of songwriting.

How do you use such a list, besides periodically taking it out to make yourself feel even worse about your writing? First, don’t look at the list when you’re feeling discouraged! Go to the list when you have the energy to write, but nothing burning a hole in your pocket to write about. Or especially when you feel like lately everything you’re writing sounds kind of the same. Pick one song off your Wish I’d Written list. Listen to it again, with fresh ears, and remind yourself, purely as a listener, why you love the song so much: why it touches you. After you’ve set this touchstone of experience to guide your deeper listening, listen again: but now, listen as a songwriter. Imagine you had written this song. What decisions would you need to have made to find your way to its elegant form? Above all, especially for our style of music: don’t be deceived by apparent simplicity. Study every aspect of the song: lyrics, melody, even the chords, spare and bare bones as they may appear. Think of it this way: your wiser, older, deeper Songwriter Mind has led you, this day, to this song. What is this song meant to teach you? What secret, hidden in this song, is just the right next lesson for you, to advance your songwriting?

Now pick one magical thing you discover in that song, and try to incorporate it in some way in the next song you write. To avoid just imitating your source song, try making other aspects of your new song as different as possible from that source—save for the one technique, or idea, or aspect of form you “steal”—well, let’s say borrow! In this way, your Songs I Wish I’d Written list will become a potent “life list” to keep your songwriting—in the face of life’s inevitable, un-songwriterly circumstances—always moving forward, “further up and further in.”

© 2020 Mark Simos —


1st place: "God Leaves the Light On" by David Morris of Gaithersburg, MD (Co-writers: Donna Ulisse and Dawn Kenney)

2nd place: "Dancing in the Rain" by Carly Arrowood of Union Mills, NC

3rd place: "Give Me Grace" by Jane Fallon of Dunedin, FL

Honorable Mentions:
"Harvester" by John Bolten, Catonsville, MD
"Allegheny Town" by Missy Raines, Nashville, TN
"You Come Around" by Kris Grainger, Salem, OR

The contest was judged by Milan Miller, Rick Lang and Mary Doub.

The Hazel Dickens Song Contest wishes to thank all the contestants and judges for making the competition a success.

For more information contact Randy Barrett at 703-405-6230

The Hazel Dickens Song Contest honors the life and muse of one of bluegrass music’s most beloved songwriters. All proceeds help fund the nonprofit DC Bluegrass Union in its mission to promote bluegrass music in the greater Washington area through performance and education.


Tom Paxton & Jon Weisberger join Alice Gerrard, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer at the Ola Belle Reed Songwriter’s Retreat April 17-19, 2020 at the Ashe County Arts Council in West Jefferson, NC.

The weekend includes group instruction, one-on-one meetings with instructors, song swaps, an instructor concert, and a student showcase in the lovely Ashe Civic Center. In addition to songwriting instruction, Marcy Marxer will work with students on song accompaniment. In just a few days, we build a safe community for songwriting, sharing, collaboratin, and making new friends. For information on tuition assistance, call 336-846-2787. The retreat is open to songwriters of all ages and all styles.

More information at the Ashe County Arts Council website

Contact Us:
International Bluegrass Music Association
4206 Gallatin Pike, Nashville, TN 37216
Phone: 615-256-3222  |  Toll Free: 888-438-4262

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