A View From the Judges Table: The Shiner Rising Star Contest's Wild Card Round
September 16, 2010
The Kessler Theatre
The lineup for last night's wild card round for this year's Shiner Rising Star competition provided a slight case of déjà vu.
As has been the case in the competition's previous years, a couple of bands that just missed winning the first time they played were given the chance to move on in the competition. This year, it was two Fort Worth acts that were granted the chance to restate their case for a recording contract with Shiner Records: Two Door Ford and Keller Hicks Band.
Taking place at the Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff (where they take the art of between-set music to a new and always fun level in both the lobby and main theatre), this "wild-card" concept proffered a unique scenario for the folks at the judges table like myself.
As a judge when both of the evening's bands performed earlier in the competition, I was excited and intrigued to see if either act would handle themselves any differently, given the second chance they have been given.
Joining me was Darryl Lee Rush, the inaugural Shiner Rising Star, who had judged only one of the bands before, and KHYI 95.3 Program Director and owner of Shiner Records, Joshua Jones, who had yet to see either of the relatively young bands live.
The variety of perspectives proved to be quite relevant when it came time to decide who was moving on to the finals.
In the wild-card round, each band was given 45 minutes to perform--15 more than when they played their first-round sets. It was of little surprise that the extra minutes provided opportunities for each act to either display their strengths, or to shed at least a little light on the items that would likely prevent them from winning this year's contest.
The night's first band, Keller Hicks Band, opened with a cover of Zac Brown Band's live mash-up staple "Free/Into the Mystic" (each band was now required to perform two covers, instead of one in the previous round). Starting off a set with a slow number is an iffy proposition for any group. And, as it turned out, the lack of forward momentum didn't help matters much, in this case. For the most part, last night's set topped their opening round set from a few weeks ago, even if it wasn't transcendent.
The fact that this four-piece is still finding their stage-legs isn't shocking, given that their lead guitar player, who at times elevates their overall product tremendously, has only been with the group for a matter of a few short weeks at this juncture. After a couple of tunes, though, the band managed to hit their stride as they brought the rocking tunes about living in Texas out with considerable force. Even then, the capable band had a hard time not sounding like someone else--whether it be Pat Green or Randy Rogers, specifically.
The second group, another rocking band out of the west-o-plex, Two Door Ford, also needed to step things up from their previous, opening round set--even though the group managed to score fairly high a few weeks ago. Last night, Two Door Ford seemed to excel in the areas that Keller Hicks Band perhaps didn't fare as well in. Fighting through some issues with their equipment, the band managed to keep it together well and professionally groove along as they let the music work things out for them (along with some assistance from a few helpful fellows, of course). While the battles with the band's equipment hampered the set at times, the energy lost was easily supplanted by the inventive writing that was featured in each tune. The choice of cover tunes helped, also. In fact, other country-rock bands should take note: When one needs to make a forceful comeback from on-stage technical issues, go Skynyrd. Their jam-rock heavy version of "Simple Kind of Man" was an unadulterated blast, even if it was a guilty pleasure that's hard to feel too guilty about enjoying.
It was that barreling momentum which carried Two Door Ford into the finals.
To be certain, these guys have a tough task ahead, regardless of landing into the final round. As has been stated in this spot many times over the last few weeks, there are some absolute power-houses that will be making their way to the finals soon, to meet them.