For many, last week’s Acoustic LIVE Challenge was an emotional one. To me, as a judge, it was a really tough one. And to any supporter of local music, it was, above all, an exciting one.
The finals are the finals. It’s that stage of the contest where all of the musicians have proven themselves in front of judges and audience members twice, sometimes thrice. To this point, they’ve shown they have the confidence to maintain a strong stage presence. They’ve demonstrated that they have the ability to draw on their following and bring people out to shows. And most importantly, they’ve portrayed true musicianship- both in singing and playing abilities.
After multiple rounds of elimination that narrows 40 artists down to a mere eight, only the best of the best are left. That, in and of itself, is admirable, notable, and praise-worthy. So to James Wilkerson & Pat Armstrong, Josh Hann, Jess and Amy, Joe Sherfick, Chris Wolf, and The Post Script: pat yourselves on the back and take a step back to consider the intangibles (networking, new fans, performance experience, personal development, and more) and realize that no one is walking away empty-handed.
But it IS the finals. And that means it’s going to take something exceptional to stand out and be differentiated. Performing the same set of songs, making the same commentary between those songs, and pulling from the same bag of tricks will no longer do the trick. But if an artist can take criticisms to heart and make step change improvements in a matter of months, coming back to perform with new material and interact with the audience in new ways every time, that is evidence of a dedicated musician who has the drive and determination to break out of the local scene.
So it comes as no surprise that the final decision came down to a matter of just two points.
Runner-up Jamie Carnes, the demo-less grungy acoustic rocker, started the contest in week five by “specializing in bland” and hiding underneath a beige ivy cap. But he ultimately caught the attention of my fellow judge Branch Gordon, who helped Carnes record a demo at his studio in time for the semi-finals. Furthermore, with earned support from new fans, Carnes’ self-confidence developed and his stage presence matured noticeably.
Acoustic LIVE Challenge champions, The Knollwood Boys, started their climb to the top with excessive love songs, smooth and mysterious music, and deadpan facial expressions. Upon suggestion to liven it up if they’re not going for the “emotional boy band” image, they did exactly that in the semi-finals by introducing rapped vocals, energetic songs, and amusing subject matter.
The Knollwood Boys will enjoy a handsome prize package as the new Acoustic LIVE Challenge champions, including 10 Hours of studio time at Winn Studios, album design and packaging by Bleeding Media, a photography session with Melissa Brewer, and performance slots at Mojostock and Slamology later this summer.
To learn about the artists who competed in earlier rounds of the competition, check out our weekly recaps from the past three months.
For contest details or to find out how to be a part of next year’s event, visit the Acoustic LIVE Challenge website.
Danielle covers local music for NUVO.net and IndyMojo.com.