Last night, The Acoustic LIVE Challenge had a small country slant, a four-piece group that tag teamed, and a metal singer gone acoustic. 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).
Snow, a member of local metal/hard rock band Old Revel Minds, stepped out of his comfort zone to perform a solo acoustic set. He maintained a mellow, surf rock sound for the majority of his set, exemplifying his ability to adapt to new and different musical environments. The judges unanimously motioned for a strengthening of vocals, but made small exceptions upon discovering that Snow’s expertise lies in singing metal.
Junk Box Mike
Junk Box Mike brought a touch of rustic charm to The Acoustic LIVE Challenge with warm vocals, countrified lyrics, and mandolin support from John Bowyer. He dressed the part and played with confidence. “We’re gonna play some hilljack music for you,” Mike announced before beginning his set with his instantly-likable song “Charlie Mac”.
John Bowyer (pronounced “boy-er”, as in “Bowyer the Destroyer”)
In an interesting display of collaboration and camaraderie, Junk Box Mike and John Bowyer stayed on stage together for an additional 25 minutes of music, simply shifting the attention to Bowyer as he headlined the third set of the evening. Though I often focus on sound and feeling (rather than lyrical content), Bowyer’s songs of back country roads and rural living spoke loud and clear to this country-girl-at-heart. Through utilization of guitar, mandolin, and banjo supported by Junk Box Mike on upright bass, Bowyer connected with his audience and entertained with unique instrumentation.
The Knollwood Boys
Although this four-piece band was forced to conform to the “only three players on stage at a time” rule, they performed with few flaws. The Acoustic LIVE Challenge rules do not distinctly prohibit electric bass, but it’s certainly frowned upon by the judges and audience alike; unfortunately, the Knollwood boys fell victim to this truth, however mellow and relaxed that electric bass was. Their songs were full of stories about love, their music was smooth and mysterious, and their facial expressions were deadpan. Nonetheless, the curious mix of covert emotion and sensitive songwriting was well received by all.
With eyes hidden beneath a beige ivy cap, Carnes- like The Knollwood Boys- maintained a mysterious demeanor. His music rested heavily on the softer side, consisting mostly of lackluster, slow-moving songs. “I specialize in bland,” he responded when I suggested most of his repertoire blended together and lacked distinctness. Despite undeniable singing and songwriting skills, Carnes ultimately failed to make an impression.
The top two winners advance to the semifinals on May 19th.
1 John Bowyer
2 The Knollwood Boys
3 Jamie Carnes
4 Junk Box Mike
5 Altus Snow
Danielle covers local music for NUVO.net and IndyMojo.com.