It’s calm. It’s peaceful. It’s surprisingly warm outside.
Despite that, there is a bar in Downtown Indy where the competition is heating up faster than the digital thermometer outside your window.
We’re four weeks into this year’s Acoustic Live Challenge and so far we’ve seen 20 of the local scene’s best as they vie for spending cash, bragging rights, studio time, photo shoots, and spots on Slamology and Mojostock. It’s been a great contest, but we’re not finished just yet. Tonight we’ve got five more looking to live the dream. By now, you know the rules: 25 minutes, no drum sets or electric guitars, your fate is determined by patrons (60%) and judges (40%). So after agreeing to fill in for my colleague Candace this week and trying my best to not sound like a bumbling mess, time to take my seat. Let’s find out who’s moving on to the semis.
Kicking things off in the not-so-envious spot of first in line is Altus Snow, a solo artist appearing to be playing out of his element (Rob Snodgrass tells me he has a metal band). It takes nerves of steel to to play in a style you’re maybe not accustomed to, and even more to set the tone. His set did feel a little rushed, and maybe he was guilty of of trying to do too much to make up for a lack of a backing band, but I can applaud anyone who can get up on a stage and just perform. For what it’s worth, I’ll have to check out said metal act when everything gets together.
In sharp contrast to the last time I had a judging gig, I know almost no one in this show. Only with the exception of one person.
I had caught Junk Box briefly nearly a year ago. This time around, we have just one person from there:
Junk Box Mike takes the stage next, only he’s not alone. Joining him on fiddle is fellow participant John Bowyer on the mandolin (but more on him later).
Though fast paced, rock usually dominates my playlist, and I will admit to drifting off a little during some of his slower songs, Junk Box Mike seemed very relaxed and had a great feel for what he was doing. I know I’m supposed to tune out Bowyer for this section, but I thought the mandolin was a nice touch to Mike’s country-western/folk style. Best of all? He tried to get some crowd participation going, as to not seem like he was performing to a wall, but instead, a room full of people.
But he’s not done yet. Why?
Because he has a part in John Bowyer’s set. There is no change on stage. Instead this time it’s Mike who performs in a backing role with an upright bass as Bowyer takes us through a folk-laden journey, complete with stories behind his songs, banjo, mandolin, and yes, acoustic guitar. Sure, there may not have been anything complex about his set, and his style was in sharp contrast to the Ugly Monkey’s crazy lights, but his set had something else to make up for it: simple, relateable, and he acknowledges the crowd in between songs (yes, many artists do this, but it’s always nice to know that we’re still part of the show).
We’re three acts in and after announcing our fourth act, I’m having flashbacks to the Hard Rock battle last year. The Knollwood Boys are next and the announcement is met with cheers from the fans they brought along. In going against the trend of the evening, they’re a rock group who used to play with a big emphasis on acoustic performances before going electric.
But enough background. How did they do?
First they had to overcome a few obstacles: there can only be three on stage at a time, and you can’t use a drum set. Their solution came in the form of switching out members midway through and replacing their kit with a wood box, shakers, and a tambourine (okay, so it’s not the most creative one I’ve seen since that still goes to Abe Shanehsaz’s tote box/cigar box/shakers combo, but I digress).
Their set? A very simple, very honest journey into their world. Sure they played in contrast to their to the country-western/folk style most have taken tonight, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Those around seem to enjoy it (besides those they brought along). They look impressive and like a heavy favorite to win it all tonight.
But we’re not out of the woods yet.
We still have one more act. An guy that told me about how unlucky it is to have the final spot on $1 beer night. However, let’s hear what he’s got.
That being said, Jamie Carnes is our final participant, and for once, we have someone who’s fast-paced playing matched the crazy lights going on around. Maybe it was due to being the last person on the bill or maybe because it was, in fact, $1 beer night, but he seemed to lose a little bit when he switched to the slower songs. For tonight, I’ll chalk it up to nerves and that of which I just listed.
And with that, the night is over. Participants now have to send in their votes while I have fun trying to figure out what it is I’m supposed to do again (yes, I’ve done it before, but I’ve slept since then). It’s been a great night and I can’t wait to see some of these guys again during the semis.
But before we get that far, first we must reveal the results of this evening. I feel like I’ve been waiting an eternity for Rob to announce the results, but sure enough, he takes the stage to reveal who’s moving on and who’s going home. Here’s your results:
1.) John Bowyer (416)
2.) The Knollwood Boys (397)
3.) Jamie Carnes (281)
4.) Junk Box Mike (213)
5.) Altus Snow (163)
With that, Week 5 is in the books. We’re one day closer to the semis, and this year’s bill looks more impressive with each week.
But we’re still not done yet. Join us next week as five more acts get their shot at glory from the Ugly Monkey in Downtown Indianapolis. Remember, your votes determine who gets to move on. What’s more exciting than seeing your favorite artist in the finals and knowing that you had something to do with it? So until next time, I’ll leave you with these parting words:
“Support local music.”
See you all next week.