Ship & Anchor celebrates community with Songwriting Contest

No “folk” means more folks, period.

That’s what the Ship & Anchor discovered last year when they set sail alone with their annual Songwriting Contest, parting ways with their longtime partners the Calgary Folk Music Festival, who chose to focus on events such as their recent successful Block Heater event.

In doing so, the Ship found who may have been deterred by the f-word in previous competitions saw an opening and rushed right in.

“Last year we had the most entries since I’ve seen since I’ve been doing it,” says Darren Ollinger, booker for the 17th Ave. institution.

“What’s really helping is that the word ‘folk’ is out of the equation, and we’ve really made a conscious effort to open it up to all genres and bands. We saw a lot more of it last year and hopefully we’s see more of it this year, a broader scope …

“It’s neat to see the eclectic-ness of what Calgary has to offer.”

Now, heading into the 14th year of the Songwriting Contest, the Ship hopes that continues.

Submissions are now open for the event, and is open to all Albertans. If that applies to you, you can fill out a form online or pick up and drop off at the Ship itself, with entrants asked to “include CD with mp3 recording plus lyric sheet of the song along with cash or cheque” for $20 per song, per category. Deadline is, fittingly, April 14.

The four categories are: the Fiasco Youth category, open to those 17 years of age and under; the Big Rock Untapped field, for those with little or no experience; the Jameson Upstart category, for those with some experience; and finally, for the pros, there’s the Finlandia Top Shelf level.

That means, as was the case last year, you can have a full day of seasoned talent, such as winners Mariel Buckley and Danny Vacon, Carter Felker and Eve Hell, along with up-’n’-comers Bella White and A-Bomb.

As someone who’s judged previous Ship songwriting contests, including one of the categories in 2016, it actually is a pretty spectacular day, with the quality of the participants running the gamut, and the prizes — cash and others, such concert tickets and recording time — making for something that’s competitive but pretty welcoming.

“It just is what it is,” Ollinger says of the competition, which will take place this year on May 28. “It’s just a cool day to spend here. We ran through 64 artists last year and what an amazing day.

“You get to see the legit cream of the crop in Calgary, just one after another. Everyone’s having fun and it’s not a tacky battle of the bands. 

“It’s just celebrating the community of Calgary.”

And, as such, Ollinger thinks the Ship is the perfect place for the event, noting that from the regular Saturday afternoon jams and the mid-week rock shows to just the fact that it’s a centrally located hangout for artists and fans alive, they’ve long considered themselves a hub for the local music scene.

“There’s no vested interested,” he says. “We’re not seeding our festival or we’re not trying to get listenership on our radio station or anything. It’s just we love this town, we love this scene — let’s celebrate it.”

He continues, returning again to the no folk, means all folks, means more folks philosophy.

“In our efforts to simplify, it’s grown into something more spectacular than it ever has been. It’s pretty cool.”

For more information or to submit an entry or two go to

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on at Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at He likes beer. Buy him one.