What started out as a submission of a “garbage recording” from a phone won Boalsburg’s William Robert Ryan the Pennsylvania Heritage Songwriting Contest with his song “4 Mile Road.”
Ryan, a 31-year-old Penn State student, has been playing guitar since he was in fifth grade. He had never heard of the Heritage Songwriting Contest until a co-worker tagged him in a social media post and encouraged him to enter.
“4 Mile Road” was inspired by Ryan’s family-owned cabin at S.B. Elliott State Park in Clearfield County. Having spent eight years in the United States Marine Corps, Ryan said he appreciates the cabin more.
“While I was gone, it wasn’t just an hour away anymore where I could just go out anytime I wanted,” Ryan said.
Without a particular idea in mind for the song, Ryan drove to his family’s cabin for inspiration.
The next day, he came back with a song.
“It’s really tough to put a finger on why. (Songs) just kind of come to you, and that just kind of came to me,” Ryan said.
Outside of playing at friends’ houses, Ryan said he has not performed publicly in a long time. Moving forward he is trying to create a wider range of content and play in venues like Doggie’s Pub and other downtown locations.
He hopes listeners will be able to appreciate “4 Mile Road,” especially people in Clearfield County who are familiar with the area.
“If you know what I’m talking about, then you know,” Ryan said. “And if you don’t, then you don’t, but it seems to (resonate) for people who have camps in that area or who are from Clearfield.”
Ryan said he appreciates the feedback he has received so far, adding that the enthusiasm motivates him to make more music.
The contest began in 2008 to celebrate Pennsylvania — its people, places and history — said Dave Pinelli, contest coordinator. The competition was also created as a tribute to Craig A. “Bubba” Bowman, a musician who was killed in a car crash in 2006.
“We’re essentially compiling an archive of songs that ... celebrates the state of Pennsylvania,” Pinelli said.
The top three winners of the contest are to perform their entries during the Smoked Country Jam Bluegrass Festival, which starts Thursday at Quiet Oaks Campground in Cross Fork, Potter County.