At 21 years old, many musicians dream of playing on the big stage and recording their own album. Parker James Willingham is no different, though he may be a few steps ahead of most.



Willingham won the first Local Songwriters Competition hosted by HarborWalk Village and Highway Country 98.1 Thursday, Aug. 29. With the win, the Niceville resident earned a spot on the HarborWalk Village stage during the Destin Seafood Festival, as well as a writing session with an executive from BMI, one of the nations three major performing rights organizations.



A songwriter since his freshman year in high school, Willingham said he loves being able to express himself through music.



 "My favorite thing about songwriting is the fact that I can take life experiences, put them into a song, put that to music and people can relate to it. I really love the fact that some of my songs actually reach out and touch people," Willingham told The Log.



For the competition, Willingham sang two songs, "Cold Creek" and "Soldier On." "Cold Creek" is a good-times tune, about memories at the Blackwater River State Forest. "Soldier On" is a more serious song, a tribute to the armed forces and their service to the United States.



"They were saluting the military that night, Willingham said. "I am 100 percent behind our military. I feel like if anyone is willing to put their life on the line to protect this nation, then writing a song for them is the least I could do."



Willingham is now focusing on recording a 10-song album, his first. He is recording with Bert Colwell at Squirrel Trap Recording studio in Valparaiso. The album will include five songs written by Willingham and five written by Colwell.



His ultimate goal is to one day turn on the radio and hear the DJ say he's about to play Parker James Willingham's new No. 1 hit.



"I want to take it as far as I can. I'd like to make it a career," he said.



Willingham knows that will likely pull him to Nashville one day soon. He recently went to the Music City for a week, and played five different bars during his trip. It went so well, one club owner didn't want to see him go.



"He asked how long we were there. He wanted me to move there," Willingham said.



For now, Willingham will continue to display his talents on stages along the Emerald Coast. You can catch Willingham at the Destin Seafood Festival on the Heron Harbor Stage from noon to 2 p.m. Oct. 6. He will also play two shows at the Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival in Niceville Oct. 18 and 19. For more information, including photo, videos of performances and a full live schedule, visit parkerjameswillingham.com.