A View From The Judges Table At Week Three of The Shiner Rising Star Contest

If week two of the first round for this year's Shiner Rising Star contest--hosted by KHYI 95.3 and Shiner Bock Beer--was solid, last night's, week three performances were a ten foot-thick slab of concrete and steel.

In short: It was an outstanding display.

Feel free to add to the list of North Texas country acts that are ready for their share of the spotlight: The Kerry Davis Band, Shutdown Town and the Chris Rivers Band.

As was the case last week in Grapevine, I was one of the judges for the evening. This week, I shared the judges table (and a couple of icy brews) with KHYI afternoon DJ, Brett Dillon and none other than former Cowboys assistant coach, Joe Avezzano.

For those wondering how Coach Joe might fit into such an equation, allow me to enlighten you: A noted supporter of country music for many years, Avezzano has spent his years away from the sidelines as a country radio personality, as well as the proprietor for several venues that have hosted many a Texas country stud in recent years. In fact, last night's locale, Hat Tricks in Lewisville, is one of Avezzano's places. And, indeed, the joint has been transformed from run of the mill, neighborhood dive bar, into a serious live music venue.

All three bands that competed to move on to the next round, and one step closer to a recording deal with Shiner Records, brought sizable and jubilant crowds with them.

The packed bar watched as the rootsy Kerry Davis Band began their set, sans percussion, and reminded all in attendance that there is room in red dirt for roots to flourish, and to be more than sturdy enough to survive. The quartet's cover of "I'll Fly Away" was a fitting choice for them, as the sepia-tinted, gospel classic became the evening's first crowd sing-along.

After a short break, the next group to command the stage--and command they did--was Edgewood, TX five-piece, Shutdown Town. Led by the indomitable Amanda Graves, this was my favorite band of the night. Mixing power and steamy soulfulness, Graves and fellow vocalist Cari Smith busted out some killer harmonies as they displayed their masterful combination of southern-rock, country and soul for all to enjoy. The majority of the crowd near the front of the stage was there to see them. But it's reasonable to think that the band's performance, especially their insanely fitting cover of Heart's "Barracuda," would've converted just about anyone, regardless of allegiance. Grave's aforementioned, powerful voice more than did justice to the Wilson sisters' original version. Without going overboard, this band, on this night was simply phenomenal.

While Shutdown Town's set stopped me dead in my tracks, the show, however, continued to roll. Charged with grabbing the momentum from the palm of the lead ladies from Shutdown Town was the extremely professional Chris Rivers Band. Having been a regular fixture on the Dallas Honky-tonk circuit for some time, Rivers and his three mates admirably rolled out their brand of honest, unpretentious country, with a slightly amped-up heft. Their penchant for danceable tunes isn't a shock, given their residency as the house band at Gilley's. For the fans of mid-'90s Top 40 country radio that began turning their dials away when VH1 started playing Shania Twain, this band's sound is nothing short of a two-stepping flashback that fits perfectly in the present-day landscape.

After the votes were tallied, Shutdown Town was revealed as the extremely deserving winner. The thing is, by stopping there, I'd be burying the true lead: Each of last night's three, distinctly different bands performed at such an enjoyably high level, and as Avezzano said repeatedly during the evening, the "celebration of local and Texas music" ended up being the biggest winner of this week's competition.

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