Written by Kendall Crawford
For senior corporate communications major Ashley Cooke, songwriting is personal. Family, friends and ex-boyfriends be warned: Cooke creates music out of happiness and heartbreak.
“I think love is such a weird, fascinating thing, and I apparently can’t seem to stop writing about it,” said Cooke. “I draw on experience more than anything — whether it’s my own or someone else’s.”
Cooke, whose passion for music began at age 10, blends the many places she’s lived into what she coins her ‘coastal country’ sound.
“I lived in 19 different homes before the age of 18 — I moved a lot. My sound is a mixture of the different places I’ve lived, both coastal and inland.”
When Cooke first arrived at Belmont, she planned to perform with her sister as a duo, but when her sister moved away, Cooke had to grow into a solo artist.
“These last four years have taught me more than I ever anticipated learning. I’m confident in my ability as a solo artist and understand that in today’s music industry, you have to put in the work if you want it. No one will do it for you,” Cooke said.
Sheryl Crow, Maren Morris and Colbie Caillat are among her artistic influences, but it’s Chris Stapleton’s songwriting in which she finds lyrical inspiration.
“Stapleton has a hard-hitting simplicity to his songs that I admire. I always try to challenge myself into thinking, ‘How can I make this average, everyday thing sound beautiful and different?’ like I imagine he does.”
Cooke is thrilled to perform at the Country Showcase because of how much fun she has on the stage with her band.
“Honestly, I just want to have a great time and be the soundtrack to the audience’s great time.”
Cooke geeks over any chance she gets to create and perform, she said.
“It’s the only thing I’ve done in my 21 years that feels right.”
Written by Justin Wagner
Patrick Murphy, a music business and accounting major, plans to bring a striking brand of energy and stage presence to the Country Showcase.
Murphy’s melodic, piano-centric style of country pop secured him a place among the top eight artists considered for Country Showcase last year, but with time to hone every element of his stage show, Murphy is confident that his identity shines more vibrantly in his performances than ever before.
“I’m happy that I was able to take the year, take all that feedback that the judges the gave me, and really work on what it was and who it was that I was trying to be,” Murphy said.
Audience involvement is an important element of Murphy’s performances, and he intends to connect with the crowd in a way that brings vitality to the show.
“The audience really wants to see you getting close to them,” Murphy said. “I’ve really worked on figuring out ways I can move around the stage and really get in contact with the fans.”
With a wide range of artists influencing his sound, from Rascal Flatts and Zac Brown to Billy Joel and Elton John, his music is dynamic and hard-hitting. An emphasis on musicianship and performance allow Murphy to synthesize refreshing ideas from familiar sounds.
With two unreleased, high-energy songs to debut at the showcase, Murphy intends to highlight his vocal range by playing a mixture of sentimental ballads and summery anthems, he said.
Above all, Murphy is prepared to demonstrate his growth as an artist and his strength as a performer.
“I think I’m at a much higher level this year,” Murphy said. “I’m really excited to show that to everybody.”
Written by Sarah Crawford
Alyssa Newton’s love of music dates back to listening to her parents’ country albums while singing along with booklets of song lyrics.
“I grew up listening to a lot of great 90s and early 2000s country like Faith Hill, Martina McBride and Shania Twain,” Newton said.
Originally from New Mexico, Newton followed her passion for songwriting to Belmont. Performing in Country Showcase will be one of her last milestones as a student before graduating this spring.
“It feels like the perfect way to wrap up my Belmont story,” the country pop artist said.
Newton will be performing her original songs “Heat of the Summer” and “Proximity,” along with a throwback cover on Saturday.
After graduation, Newton hopes to continue her career in both singing and songwriting.
“I love to write everything. I do country, but also pop and worship music,” Newton said.
When she’s not writing or playing music, Newton loves to hang out with friends, go to coffee shops and watch movies.
Written by Katie Knipper with contributing reporting from Lydia Fletcher.
Sister duo Kendra and Krista Slaubaugh hope to create a genuine connection with the Country Showcase audience.
“Knowing that you can relate to people and tell their stories, even just one person, you told my story, that makes it all worth it,” Krista said. “You get to create a different universe for a little bit for them.”
Though they started writing together as preteens, they knew it was something that would bring them fulfillment for a lifetime.
“We kind of knew we wanted to take it farther and more as a career when we started writing music,” Kendra said. “We wanted to have a gateway to do something with those songs we were writing, and the way we could do that was by trying to make Tigerlily our career — and thankfully we’ve been able to do that to this point.”
The two started off with YouTube videos that morphed into music videos for their original songs and eventually two EPs. Even with the last being released in 2017, the sisters are eager to get started on their next creation.
“We’re doing two brand new songs that aren’t released yet at the Showcase, so we’re getting ready to release new music,” Kendra said.
These new songs are influenced by their fluid definition of modern country music.
“I don’t know if we’ve had one main influence growing up that we absolutely love — but Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Adele; and we loved Rascal Flatts and Sugarland growing up,” Kendra said.
Sharing influences is just one aspect of the sibling bond the two have created.
“Right now we’re together pretty much 24/7,” Krista said. “We really are like each other’s best friends, and I think if we weren’t it wouldn’t work because we spend so much time together.”
Their ability to work well for long hours together is vital as they prepare for the Showcase.
“We have a pretty new band for this showcase, so we’re definitely just practicing with the band and musically trying to make it interesting and challenging each other through that way,” Kendra said. “And really enjoying the experience of it all is definitely how we prepare too.”
Their love of their craft motivates them to keep working even when the process is less than perfect.
“At the end of the day — even though it can be incredibly tough sometimes — it’s still the most rewarding job we’ll ever have.”
Photos courtesy of CEMB Showcase Series, by Zoe VandeWater for ZJ Media.