To the rescue last weekend came the first annual American Song Festival held in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and, uniquely, open to both amateurs and professionals. Name entertainers like José Feliciano, Etta James, Sarah Vaughan and The Lettermen performed the 36 semifinalists' compositions which had been winnowed from a staggering 60,000 entries. At stake was $128,000 in prize money. Official spokesperson for the affair was Helen (I Am Woman) Reddy, which was only appropriate, since she got her start by winning a similar competition in Australia in the 1960s. A little less lucky was Pennsylvania's Governor Milton Shapp, an amateur songwriter, who met rebuff with each of his 10 entries. No sore loser, Shapp then agreed to present the concert piano to the grand prize winner, who also won $30,500.
Song festivals in which aspiring composers compete for the ear of the music industry have become annual fixtures overseas, but in America the avenue to professional recognition has traditionally been a dingy sidestreet called Tin Pan Alley.