New guitar comes just in time for song contest winner

POIPU — The grand prize of a new Gibson Les Paul-Dickie Betts model guitar came just in time for Kapaa’s Jessica Penner, winner of the first Kauai Music Festival songwriting contest.

Her old guitar was just that, old, needing new strings and other work. So Rich McSheehy of Kalaheo, president of the Kauai Music Festival, had an idea on the eve of the festival’s third of three concerts Wednesday night at the Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort & Spa here.

Since she had already been declared the contest winner, for her composition “Alaska,” and was going to get her guitar Wednesday night in a formal, ballroom, on-stage presentation anyway, why not let Penner tune up her new ax, and play it while performing her winning song for a crowd of several hundred people.

That’s just what happened.

All five of the contest winners, who received various versions of Gibson Guitar Company instruments as prizes, also performed Wednesday, sharing the stage with Lamont Dozier, who wrote over a dozen Motown hits for the Four Tops, Supremes and others, and other singers and songwriters with enough Grammy wins and nominations, and Na Hoku Hanohano award (Hawaiian Grammys) wins and nominations, to fill multiple trophy cases.

Penner prevailed over 76 other entrants from around the world, including Dr. Ann West of Kilauea, who placed fifth in the contest. Other winners were Gail Swanson of Maui, Robert Cooper of New York, and Dave Wilson of Texas.

Penner also won a spot in a BMI showcase on the Mainland, and submission of her winning song to top record companies in the United States.

Her song was judged by a team of music-industry experts, who chose her entry over finalists who had come to Kauai for the festival from as far away as England, New York and Florida.

The festival-closing concert also included performances by Grammy winners Jesse Harris and Dozier, as well as Hoku winners John Cruz, Barry Flanagan, and Owana Salazar.

Harris and Flanagan performed together some songs written by Harris, whose compositions won multiple Grammy awards this year for singer Norah Jones. They were on stage in knee-length shorts and sleeveless T-shirts.

Other members of the Kauai Music Festival staff who performed included Lisa Loeb, Dweezil Zappa, Leilani Bond, Jeff Cohen, Peter Zizzo, Hugh Prestwood, Frank Myers, Toni Childs, Michael Ruff and Kara Dio Guardi.

Myers wrote the hit songs “I Swear” and “Just You and I,” and performed both of them.

During the four-day event, record-company executives in attendance were impressed by separate performances by Maui resident Flanagan and Oahu’s Reiatea Helm, who could have national and international stardom in their near futures as result of festival exposure.

Kaleo Club International musicians, singers and hula dancers kicked off the concert, which lasted nearly four hours.

Plans are already in the works for a second Kauai Music Festival, around this time next year.

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at or 245-3681 (ext. 224).


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