Real Artists Work Q&A: Joshua West won first place in The Don Gibson Singer-Songwriter Symposium
By: Terry Rader
Joshua West of High Point won first place at the April 7, Don Gibson Singer-Songwriter Symposium. Joshua was one of the 12 finalists to perform at the Don Gibson Theatre in Shelby, North Carolina. Joshua received the Don Gibson American Music Foundation Award trophy, a $1,000 cash prize and an opportunity to open a future show at the Don Gibson Theatre.
Terry: Joshua, congratulations! How does it feel to have won first place last night with one of your original songs?
Joshua: I’m still a little dumbstruck. The talent was stout, and after hearing everyone play in the artists’ lounge and at sound check, I thought, well, I’m just honored to be here, this will be tough. It wasn’t like a competition. It was like a brotherhood. We had fun hanging out, and when someone started picking a song, others would join in. We just had a good time. There were two Joshes in the competition. Josh Hudson, of Casar, North Carolina, had actually placed second and third in the last two years, so when I first heard my name called, I didn’t think it was me. My friend, Andy Turnbull (who told me about the competition) said that everyone could see by the look on my face that I didn’t believe it. My family and everyone started hugging me. Once I got up on stage and was standing there, holding the big check, it began to sink in. I had actually won first place.
Terry: That is so exciting, and I am so happy for you! What was the original song that you performed and why did you choose it from the plethora of hundreds of songs you’ve written over the years?
Joshua: The original song was “Fall to Pieces” off of my last album, Uncertain Times. Honestly, I think I have written better songs since. I chose it because it is very emotive and I thought I could really move people with this song.
Terry: I’ll say! You certainly moved the judges! What Don Gibson song did you perform?
Joshua: I originally had chosen “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” but someone else got that one. I performed “Bring Back Your Love to Me.” Since my original song was slow and sad, I thought that this one would lighten up the crowd.
Terry: Just like a performer, you know how to intuitively play for an audience. What number were you in the lineup of performers for your original song and for the Don Gibson song?
Joshua: The original song line-up was done in alphabetical order, and I was last, just as I was all through elementary school. They reversed the order, and I was first in line for the Don Gibson song performances.
Terry: I guess they saved the best West for last! Is this your first trophy after doing music for almost 30 years?
Joshua: Yes, it’s the first competition that I have been in since I was 16 and my band won a battle of the bands competition two years in a row.
Terry: I see. You’ve won all three of the competitions you’ve entered. Maybe you should do this more often. Are you excited about the future opportunity to open for a band at the Don Gibson Theatre? Do you have any details about that?
Joshua: Yes! I am tremendously excited! They have huge national acts like Bela Fleck and Travis Tritt. I don’t have any details about my spot yet.
Terry: Did you take a lucky guitar with you or do you have any special reasons why you chose the guitar you did?
Joshua: Ha-ha, so funny you should ask. I didn’t take the guitar that I normally play for gigs. I guess you could say I made a lucky choice because I had a technical snafu during my performance. My cord wasn’t plugged all the way in the jack. The stage manager apologized to me before I started my second song. They didn’t realize that my guitar wasn’t coming through the PA system. Luckily, I had decided to bring my nice guitar, an Eastman J-45 that I use for recording. The reason I chose it was because of its great sound quality. It projected better than the one I usually perform with, thank goodness. My son, Gabriel shot a video of me singing, and you could hear the guitar very clearly.
Terry: How did it feel going on stage for this competition versus performing your songs at one of your gigs?
Joshua: It was totally different. The worst part was waiting, being last in line to perform. Gabriel later compared it to waiting in line to ride the roller coaster. He said that the waiting was the worst part and then once you got in, you could just enjoy the ride. Once I walked from behind the curtain onto the stage, I realized that this is what I do and a calm washed over me. My friend, Andy said: ‘When you started playing, everyone just hushed, we knew this is how it’s supposed to be played. You could tell that you were a performer.’
Terry: Did any of the other singer-songwriters have as much experience as you?
Joshua: Some people were my age or older. Some of the younger ones in their twenties were asking me questions, and I enjoyed sharing what I know with them, it was fun to interact with them, and it felt good to be considered a mentor. Daniel Jeffers of Dallas, North Carolina, age 26 won second place. Steve Simpson of Fort Mill, South Carolina, won third place, and he is in his 60s. There was a myriad of ages and experience levels present.
Terry: How did it feel to compete in front of your family? I understand how proud your wife, Anneli is from her Facebook posts and rightly so. How did your son, Gabriel (age 13) and your daughter, Linnea (age 11) react to you winning?
Joshua: My kids (tearing up and Terry right along with him) are still telling me how proud they are of their Papa. They were the first to give me a hug after the show. Man, they make me so damn proud all of the time (sniffling together now). It felt so good to make them proud of me.
Terry: How sweet! Joshua, I just want to say that in the 20 years I’ve known you, 10 of which we worked together, I’ve seen you rise above a lot of “uncertain times.” It goes without saying how proud I am of you with this accomplishment and how proud I’ve been in the past of you as my co-worker and then my friend. You have always been a winner in my eyes and in the eyes of all who love you. You’ve got one of the biggest hearts I know, and it’s so good for all of us to see you being recognized for your talent and hard work with this award.
Terry: You told me in our last interview that you would love to someday be able to work full time on your music. Will this new win affect how you move forward with your music?
Joshua: I definitely think so. Through the connections made and the support and feedback, it makes me want to try harder and do better. There’s a big difference in making a good album and making a great album. It’s time for me to make something special. I’m not getting any younger, and I’m not going to have any regrets.
Terry: You said earlier that you really enjoyed mentoring some of the younger finalists. Do you think you would ever enjoying teaching others to play music, write songs and sing?
Joshua: I could definitely see that. I play the role of teacher in raising kids every day, but I also volunteer coach for their sports, and I really enjoyed serving as a scout leader. It’s part of my legacy taking the experiences I have had and leaving them behind by teaching others what I know. That’s how you touch someone, how you leave your mark.
Terry: That’s beautiful, Joshua. Do you have anything else you’d like to share?
Joshua: I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you, to you, to all of my family, my friends and everyone reading this who lent their love and support. That is what made this weekend so special for me. It touches me. I feel loved!