The unearthing of Indiana talent continued last night at The Ugly Monkey, bringing skilled guitar players from as far as Versailles, Rensselaer, and Evansville for the Acoustic LIVE Challenge. The three month-long event features five new performers every Thursday at The Ugly Monkey. The rules are simple: acoustic music only (no drums or electric instruments), original music only (no cover songs), and no more than three people on-stage per performer (supporting musicians are allowed, but that number is limited).
McGuire set the tone for the evening with strong audience support, bringing one of the largest groups of fans to his early opening set. McGuire played solo, allowing his raspy vocals (think “Sully” from Godsmack, gone acoustic) to shine and welcoming my recommendations to consider further development of his band (“I have a drummer,” he replied when I inquired about an existing performance group) and a shift towards harder rock.
Alexander, who likens his style of music to that of John Mayer and Dave Matthews, excelled in presentation as much as he did in singing and songwriting. Standing behind the microphone, he played guitar with precision, while incorporating his entire body and fancy feet moves. Vocal inflections aplenty (reaching from mid-range to high, both in pitch and volume), Alexander won me over with harmonica-infused standout track, “Train Wreck”.
The stars of the night were easily James Wilkerson and his partner-in-crime, rapping vocalist Pat Armstrong. The unlikely pairing of bluesy acoustic rock with mega-tight emcee skills was a uniquely curious sound that worked. Wilkerson’s charismatic and instantly likable personality was further enhanced by constant references to Indiana and his native Rensselaer.
Barkley stepped away from his role as vocalist/guitarist for local rock band Woah! Tiger to try his hand at a solo acoustic performance. Barkley, who brought the first loop machine that The Acoustic LIVE Challenge has seen this year, opened with a line of humor: “There’s something to be said about paying with yourself…”
My fellow judging panel member Candace and I agree that they’re putting something in the water in Evansville; every contestant thus far from the southern Indiana city (three hours form Indy!) has brought incomparable guitar skills and Kennedy Rose was certainly no different. With one of the most exceptional guitar-playing styles I’ve ever witnessed, all I could say to Rose was that he
should must break into the music festival circuit where I am positive he could flourish amongst other skilled musicians and fans with a true appreciation for individualism.
The top two winners advance to the semifinals on May 12th.
1. James Wilkerson & Pat Armstrong
2. Daryl McGuire
3. Kennedy Rose
4. Mark Alexander
5. Jack Barkley
Danielle covers local music for NUVO.net & IndyMojo.com.