RJ Cowdery impressed judges and crowd alike in winning the Dave Carter Memorial Songwriting Contest. photo by Jim Williams
RJ Cowdery impressed judges and crowd alike in winning the Dave Carter Memorial Songwriting Contest. photo by Jim Williams
The winner of the 2012 Sisters Folk Festival Dave Carter Memorial Songwriting Contest was singer/songwriter RJ Cowdery of Columbus, Ohio.

"I'm so happy to have won this," said Cowdery."I've been hearing about the Sisters Folk Festival and the songwriting contest for a few years, I've done some other contests in Texas and Colorado and always wanted to throw my hat into the ring and finally got a chance to do that."

Cowdery grew up in Belpre, Ohio, a small town along the West Virginia border. Absorbing the gospel and country music her family sang, Cowdery gained the inspiration to want to sing and play guitar. Even damaged fingers on her left hand from a mowing accident couldn't slow Cowdery down.

"I decided losing part of my finger wouldn't stop me from playing guitar," Cowdery said. "I just make my own finger out of tape, and it hasn't held me back at all. I have my own style of playing now and I couldn't imagine playing any other way."

With a tender voice and heartfelt lyrics, Cowdery has taken home major songwriting awards at such illustrious places as Kerrville New Folk, Mountain Stage Newsong, Wildflower Arts and Music, while getting the runner-up award at Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, before netting her impressive win here in Sisters.

"This just keeps me going, I can't wait to come back," Cowdery said. "It's going to be something to really look forward to. I tour in Texas quite a bit, northern Colorado and tour the Midwest and the Northeast. I've never played in this part of the country before, so this will really open some doors for this area."

Opening doors is what the contest is all about, according to Sisters Folk Festival Board Chairman Jim Cornelius.

"Songwriting contests are a way for emerging artists in this kind of genre of music to gain name recognition and credibility," he said. "There is no getting a label deal or major label support in this business, it's all how you get your name out there on your own. This is one of the ways people do that, so they're looking for songwriting contests to enter. This contest has a good reputation. It's had winners that have gone on to have solid careers in folk music. Dave Carter was the first, but there have been a bunch who have launched a career or have gotten a career boost from winning this contest."

Carter was an emerging folk singer-songwriter whose songs were noted for their poetic imagery, spirituality and storytelling. He died from a massive heart attack at the age of 49, in 2002.