Story and pix by Mary Jane Farmer. Go to the links at the end of this story for more photos.
They came from Waco, Waxahatchie, and points in the Dallas area, and each of the three bands brought with them fans, talent, and excitement.
Shiner Rising Star’s Round 1 Week 6 saw The Calamity Janes (Waxahachie), Doc Mojoe (Waco), and Jeremy Powers (Dallas) taking turns on the Southern Junction (Rockwall) stage. Judges Tip Jones (Overdrive Entertainment), Allan Peck (KHYI), and Amber Ferris (Somebody’s Darling) stayed enthralled with the different performances, commenting on their various choices of cover songs and their own talents as songwriters.
In the end, it was announced that The Calamity Janes would be moving into Round 2. In Round 2, the eight bands who will have been selected to stay in the yearly contest, will try again, this time to be one of the four finalists in Round 3.
“Each band has 30 minutes from the time they talk through that back (stage) door until they walk back out through that same door,” Peck told the crowd.
The Calamity Janes were ready for the night, even to steaming their stage dresses in the green room before the show. This was a 7-piece band, with the sister trio of Arwyn Benson, County Childs-Mock, and Alyssa Covington taking turns on lead vocals and harmonies, plus four backup musicians. They opened with their required cover song, Hank The Third’s “Straight to Hell,” then delved into their own compositions and arrangements. One unique action on their part, spontaneous in feel, was a gift to a young girl who had been on the dance floor.
At the end of each set, the judges offer their critiques of the bands’ work. Ferris began that complimenting the band on “pushing through” the initial sound glitches. “That means you are pro. The songs were really good, just tighten it up. You have a good sound.”
Jones said, “I have to say I did enjoy it, I’m a huge fan of sibling harmonies, and also bluegrass. You have great enough voices that will carry a whole show. Loved the cover, right off the bat. There’s not something you’d expect, three chicks pulling out a Hank the Third.”
Peck’s response was, “Your harmony is something that is God given. It can’t be manufactured or learned. Your last song was excellent, it really struck a chord with me.”
Jeremy Powers and his band stepped up next, immediately drawing audience eye with the alto sax and soprano sax that appeared on stage. He opened with “here we go…” and kicked it all off. Judges were particularly fond of his song about Starbucks, and dancers (people go to Southern Junction to dance and for the steaks), filled the dance floor to this band’s music. They chose to rock the Rodney Crowell/Emmylou Harris/Waylon Jennings song “Ain’t Living Long Like This,” as their cover. The band had good stage presence and Powers’ voice is, well… powerful.
Jones opened the critique, complimenting the sax. “The cool thing about Texas music is you can include that in any band.” He said the band had a little “Dave Matthews Band thing going on.”
Ferris said, “I wish I could keep on listening to you. The Starbucks was a very good song, very marketable.” She, too, said she loved the sax.
Peck was also complimentary, saying, “You guys have guts, the very idea in 2013… stand up on a stage, in public, and in front of everybody, and playing a waltz. Yea! That was good.” The band had shades of Ernest Tubb to it, he recalled.
Doc Mojoe, hailing from Waco, consisted of more acoustic musicians than electric, and played more Americana, folky songs that C&W or Texas country. Their cover was by The Carpenters, also a surprise selection for the judges.
Their best song, according to the judges later on, was a song about springs under the Gruene Hall dance floor. They remembered to thank Shiner Beer (a sponsor of the contest, Southern Junction, and KHYI.
Peck’s critique came first. He said the “Springs stands out in my ear.” He offered one critique, as hopefully helpful, saying, “I had to bring you down on stage showmanship. Turning around with your back to the audience is a no no, if I paid a cover charge at the door, I wouldn’t want to see your back side.”
Jones’ comments were that he loved the Texas toe-tapper, the mandolin, and the feel of old-school bluegrass bands. On the cover song, “You did a great job.”
Ferris concluded this final critique by saying, “You looked like you were having fun on stage. Good job.”
This upcoming week will see the bands Grand Ol’ Grizzly, Blacktop Mojo, and Matt Bradshaw competing and entertaining at Smitty’s Bar & Grill in Denison. Music starts at 8 p.m., and there’s never a cover charge for these shows.