Story and photos by Mary Jane Farmer — for more photos, click on the links at the bottom
It was hard core country meets hard core string band Thursday night as Swift Justice and The Bodarks battled it out to move on into Round 2 of the 2013 Shiner Rising Star. When the announcement came in, it was learned that judges picked The Bodarks, of Frisco, to make that move forward.
Thursday night’s show was at Branson Rock in downtown Keller, and judges this week were Dawn Gartin, AMP, and artist Matt Caldwell with one vote between them, Kona Guitars’ rep. Mark Jabbon, and KHYI’s Chuck Taylor.
There were two things that, in spite of their different genres, the bands had in common, and that was a mutual respect for one another and a knack for using the stage to best advantage, to entertain as well as play music.
Because the third band, Quiet Morning & The Calamity from the Houston area, had to opt out at the last minute, contest officials gave the two bands 45 minutes on stage instead of the usual 30 minutes. They each had to perform mostly their own original compositions with one required cover tucked in there somewhere.
The Bodarks took the stage first. This band is Jeffrey Brooks on banjo and guitar; Jason Bell on mandolin and a side-by-side washboard combination for percussion; Brian Kelleher on stand-up bass; and Shelly Duell on fiddle. This 4-part string band brought their A-game and included in that were their collective and individual personalities. Their cover was the Queen 1980-ish song, “Fat Bottomed Girls.” Fiddler Duel, toward the end, stepped, or rather jumped off the 4-foot high stage, and played her fiddle up-close-and-personal for the judges’ to enjoy.
After each band’s set, the judges critique them, offering words of encouragement and development. Jarmon started, saying simply, “All you guys sounded real good, I enjoyed it.” Caldwell spoke, saying, “The Americana thing, I get it.” Then, Gardin encouraged the band to consider more than way they dressed, for a cohesive presentation. Taylor closed out the critique saying presentation, that kind of uniform look, separates a band from just being a bar band. He also commented on how well they got over the technical difficulties that held the start of their 45-minutes. Of their cover, Taylor commented, “Kevin Fowler, eat your heart out.”
Swift Justice chose a Thin Lizzy song as their cover, which also pleased the judges. This 5-piece group is John Wurts and David
Simpson on lead guitars, Scott Jones on vocals, David Knox on drums, and Steve Oldridge on bass. These men were, except of course for Oldridge and Knox, all over the stage, interacting with one another and with their audience. They pulled dancers onto the floor, and kept the music moving with little interruption at all.
Jarmon critiqued them saying it was a full-sounding band, and that he was expecting some country out of them, but there was some rock in there too, a surprise sound. He especially noticed, he said, the musicianship from the guitarists and pointing to Wurts, he said, “You are awesome, man.” He suggested that they work on their lead vocals “just a little bit.”
Caldwell started out his critique saying, “I’m clearly the Simon Cowell here…” Then he critiqued the songwriting, “I am a staff writer in Nashville and know that you try to write songs that are different. It is imperative to find a hook that has never been written.” One of which he commented on was a song with “blue eyes of Texas” as a hook. “That’s very much like Restless Heart’s ‘Bluest Eyes in Texas,’ written by my boss in Nashville, Tim Dubois. That all being said, the band, the guitars, you are great at that. It’s a total package. I’ve just got to be hard on the sound writing, because in Texas, from Walt (Wilkins) to RWH (Ray Wylie Hubbard), they are all so original. It’s imperative we stand out in songwriting.”
Taylor commented, “What is coming out of Nashville is cookie cutter and we have got to stand as far away from that.” He added that the rock part of the band’s style is something “the band probably needs to hear toward. The Texas music scene is open to everything.”
The Bodarks now join Lauren Alexander, Buffalo Ruckus (whose lead singer, BTW, has not missed being in the crowd of a single Shiner Rising Star show yet), Green Light Pistol, and Cody Joe Hodges moving into Round 2.
There’s three more weeks and nine more bands in Round 1: Sept. 5, Southern Junction in Rockwall with Jeremy Powers, Doc Mojoe, and Calamity Janes bands on stage; Sept. 12 at Smitty’s Bar & Grill in Denison with Grand Old Grizzly, Blacktop Mojo, and Matt Bradshaw vying; and Sept. 19 at City Tavern in downtown Dallas, with Scott Dean, Stone Rosevelt, and Mike Stanley Band stepping up to the judges.
And that night, KHYI’s personality, Big Gus Samuelson will play after the show with his band, Swampadelic.