A View From The Judges Table At Last Night's Shiner Rising Star Contest

For those who have wondered what this region's country scene has in the pipeline, waiting just beyond the Eleven Hundred Springs, Boys Named Sue and King Bucks of the world, the Shiner Rising Star competition is a great resource. With last night's second part of the preliminary round, three bands showed extremely divergent styles of country, and also brought out quite the crowd. The relatively new outdoor beer garden patio at the Grapevine location of Love & War in Texas gradually became more packed by the hour. By the time the evening drew to a close a few minutes after 10 pm, easily more than 200 people were there to give a boost to the specific band that they hoped would make it to the next round, where the group will be even closer to winning a record deal with Shiner Records.

As one of the judges for this round, I, along with Brett Dillon of KHYI 95.3 and Amber Farris from Somebody's Darling, hoped that one of the three bands would tear the stage up so profusely that it would be impossible not to score them tremendously higher than the other two bands. In short, I wanted my part of the decision to be easy. I can't speak for Dillon or Farris, but the performances of all three acts ensured that while I indeed had a clear favorite for the night, my decision was far from simple. The night's three acts, Chasing Grayson, The Big Benders and Keller Hicks Band, all seemed to show up with their pearl-snapped best. And not only were the bands stylistically different from one another, the collective age of each band represented three different phases in an artist's life.

The first band on stage, Chasing Grayson from Gunter, weren't the youngest to hit the stage last night, but they weren't the seasoned vets, either. Displaying a freshly scrubbed look and polished sound that might have resembled that of the Eli Young Band just a tad too much, the four-piece put on a solid, albeit calm set just as the sun was setting.

Next, a trio by the name of The Big Benders, the evening's elder statesmen, rolled out their rollicking brand of rockabilly/soul/Western-goth to a successful effect. Their inventive and unpredictable cover of "Fortunate Son" was the highlight of all three sets for me, personally.

Closing out the music portion of the night were the youngsters of Fort Worth's Keller Hicks Band. Looking as much like an Abercrombie window display as a band, these barely legal fellas really knew how to work the sizable chunk of the crowd that was clearly there to see them and them only. While the tunes weren't on par with The Big Benders from a pure writing level, their set was easily the hardest shredding of the night. Not a lot of what many older folks would consider "country" in their sound, but that doesn't mean they won't be a force on the Texas country scene in the coming years.

Ultimately, it is The Big Benders (who were my overall favorite last night) that will be forging ahead, as the score sheets that Dillon, Farris and I filled out gave Saille Branch and his boys a slight edge over the other acts.

Be sure to keep following the competition. The showdown will continue into the summer and it takes place every Thursday night at various local country-friendly venues around town.

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