Knoxville — Knoxville's Kelli Courtney was writing songs for six months before one of them was chosen the winner of a contest sponsored by the Farm Hands Bluegrass Quartet. The song will be recorded on the Quartet's next album.
Courtney grew up in Knoxville, enjoying old country music as a child. As a teenager, she began to appreciate Bluegrass. She participated in choir while in school, and in 2011, formed the Radyo Flyer Bluegrass Band. (They intentionally misspelled "radio.")
During a gig in Kirksville, Mo., she and her bandmates met the Farm Hands. But it wasn't until she came across a notice on the Farm Hands' website and in a bluegrass magazine that she found out that the Quartet was sponsoring a new songwriter contest. Three of the four members of the Quartet are songwriters themselves. They wanted to provide an opportunity for a fellow songwriter, with no professionally recorded songs to their credit, to achieve this goal.
Courtney seized the opportunity and submitted three songs. One of them, "Down this Old Gravel Road," was chosen as the winner.
While working her day job as Marion County's Chief Deputy Assessor in December 2013, she received an email message to inform her of the Quartet's decision. She was alone in the office at the time, and had to read the message more than once to believe it. An even greater challenge was not telling anyone until the Quartet made the official announcement on Jan. 1.
The Quartet chose to debut its rendition of Courtney's song Feb. 1 at the 2014 SPBGMA Convention and Awards Show in Nashville, Tenn. Courtney drove to Nashville to hear the debut of her song live at the awards. Prior to playing the song, the band discussed the contest and pointed Courtney out to the crowd.
A video she posted of the performance on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTQTNJcZXsc) shows her shaking as she stood up to receive a round of applause. When the performance was over, Courtney said she put the video camera down and shed tears of joy.
"Kelli is a talented and passionate young writer," Farm Hands' bass player Daryl Mosley said. "Other artists have already contacted her wanting to hear her songs. And the Farm Hands are very happy that we've been able to help open some doors for Kelli."
Courtney received several compliments from the band's strong fan base in Nashville. She was able to spend time with the band and make some good contacts within the industry while there. As for an explanation of how the trip was for her, she says, "Everyone keeps asking me that and all I can say is, it was awesome."
In the time since she submitted her contest entries, and since she made the trip to Nashville, Courtney has continued writing. She has a few more songs that are nearly done. Lyrics come easily, but putting the music to it is the challenge. Courtney was busy writing a new song the night before our interview.
As Radyo Flyer's bass player and singer, Courtney has lined up a couple of gigs in July. The band will play at Tuesdays in Indianola on July 8 and a music festival in Strawberry Point on July 25. Throughout this time, she will continue to put her songwriting talents to use, telling stories of things she knows and those she appreciates in life.