“I was like, what? How is that possible?”

Several days after winning the Troubadour Competition at Telluride Bluegrass Festival, singer-songwriter and virtuoso bluegrass picker Martin Gilmore was still in disbelief over his latest honor.

“It’s amazing. All the other writers were really great. So it was a really great competition,” he shared.

For those of us at Swallow Hill Music, be it his students, fellow instructors, or staff members, the victory only confirms what we’ve known all along: Martin is a boss.

Watch our full video interview with Martin, or read on

Martin said he’d never entered a songwriting competition before so he had to allow that part of himself to step into the spotlight for once. 

Music, tour dates and more: Learn more about Martin Gilmore

“I’ve always been a bluegrass musician, so this is somewhat of a pivot to be able to do more solo singing, which I’ve never really put as much energy into,” he said. “But now I’m like, maybe I should go explore that because it’s fun.”

He said that choosing what song to submit in the first place was perhaps the most difficult part of the process “because you want to put your best foot forward.” He chose a new, unreleased song. 

As one among hundreds of submissions, the song worked its way through several rounds of vetting before he made the list of finalists. “Then you play two songs in a preliminary round, and then you play two songs in the final.”

The weekend of the festival, Martin chose a mix of new and older songs to play. He chose songs that he felt best represented him, and those with “the vibe of Telluride.”

Not only was this his first songwriting competition, but it was his first time at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Of the performers he saw, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys really stuck out, as well as Sierra Ferrell. Martin said Ferrell is “amazing” and a “rock star.”

Ultimately, though, his fondest memories of the whole festival are of the other songwriters in the competition. Of that group, Martin made new friends and reestablished existing bonds. He was among his people.

Songwriting, Guitar, Bluegrass and more: Take a class with Martin Gilmore at Swallow Hill

“If you go into a contest,” he reflected, “go into it with the idea that you’re meeting other songwriters. The competition isn’t really the point of it. It’s a showcase and a way to bond with and meet other writers.”

Martin urges everyone to seek out and listen to all of the songwriters who were finalists, and you can find the full list of finalists here. He hopes to share more reflections and maybe even impart some advice about entering songwriting competitions, which he hopes to post to his blog down the road.

And speaking of the road, Martin stopped in the Swallow Hill offices the day after getting home from Telluride, and a day before heading out on tour with Jackson Emmer in Montana. It’s been a whirlwind to say the least.

Don’t worry, though, he’ll be back before too long and you can catch him live in Colorado, or even take a class with him at Swallow Hill Music in the fall. 

In the meantime, congratulations Martin, we are so excited for you!