Rock Your Way To
The Top Is Back
By Rick Coates
Last year was the inaugural year for Rock Your Way to the Top, a talent contest for rock and roll bands in Michigan. A smashing success, the event returns in January of 2010.
Hosted by the Turtle Creek Casino and co-produced and sponsored by Joey Callahan of Radius Recording, this has quickly become the premiere music competition in Michigan.
This marks the final week for bands to submit their recordings for consideration. The winning band will receive $2,000 in cash, production with a Grammy award-winning producer, studio time at Radius Recording, and an opening slot for a major headliner this June at Leelanau Sands Showroom.
I saw the acts being considered and it is going to be a huge artist, said Joey Callahan. Last years winner, 4Warned, opened for Puddle of Mudd.
Lacking from last years competition was a lot of bands from Northern Michigan.
I do not decide who gets into the competition, said Callahan. The casino has a selection committee and they told me that a lot of bands had poor quality recordings that they submitted, so we agreed to offer a discount at Radius Recording to help get recordings up to quality.
Last years event had several notable judges as a result of Callahans musical connections, this year Callahan didnt have to rely solely on his industry friends.
Word has spread, we put on such a quality event and that goes to the great people like Val Pincumbe, Lisa Chippewa and Joe Kavanagh at the casino for all of their efforts. They put on a first class event last year and it impressed those from the industry that others took notice, said Callahan. So we have some of the same judges back but some impressive names called to be a part of this event in 2010.
New judges will include the legendary punk rock guitarist Karl Egghead Morris, who will fly in from his home in England to be a part of this seasons Rock Your Way To The Top. Joining him will be Brian Liesegang of Nine Inch Nails and Filter fame. Most recently, Liesegang has been collaborating with Brian Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins. Liessgang is now a part of the critically acclaimed electronic musical project, Ashtar Command, that will tour later in 2010.
Rock Your Way To The Top kicks off January 9, 2010 at the Level 3 Lounge (according to Callahan all the preliminary competitions will be at Turtle Creek this year) and continue through the middle of April. The Grand Finale will take place May 1 at the Leelanau Sands Showroom with the winner performing with a major act in June at the Showroom with date and artist to be announced later.
As for last years winner?
4Warned is doing great, in fact we just had them in the studio last month because their tour schedule has been hectic, said Callahan. Grammy winning producer/engineer Howard Beno worked with them. We plan to have a CD release party sometime soon at the casino. I really want to encourage bands to enter this. There are a lot of opportunities not only for the winners but for others. It isnt often that you get a chance to put yourself in front of people of this caliber from the music industry.
Callahan said that he will have a major announcement about Music Industry Expo coming to Northern Michigan in 2011 soon.
To enter your band contact Val Pincumbe at 231-313-9485. To learn more about the competition visit their site at www.rockyourwaytothetop.com
Where Are The Concerts?
All quiet on the music front...
By Rick Coates
Where are all the winter concert offerings in Northern Michigan? Notwithstanding the local music scene, there seems to be a shortage of live concerts this winter season. In past winters Northern Michigan has seen its share of national and international touring acts including The Chieftains, Uncle Kracker, Saliva, Clutch, Rusted Root, Kenny Rogers, Loverboy and several others. But this year it is slim pickings when you look to the typical venues in the region that host concerts of this caliber.
The Little River Casino in Manistee doesnt have another show on their schedule until Johnny Rivers in April, Look to the Odawa in Petoskey and you have to wait until May for Bill Cosby. Kewadin Casino has a few acts coming from Blake Shelton to Chubby Checker to Molly Hatchet. Head to Soaring Eagle in Mt. Pleasant and jazz man Bob James plays at the end of the month, but their schedule for winter is also very light. The Grand Traverse Casino Resorts and their three facilities have nothing listed on their website for the coming months.
Interlochen, Dennos and the Blissfest have a few offerings, but in past years Interlochen offered people like Wynton Marsalis, James Galway, The Chieftains and other Grammy-winning international acts. That caliber is missing from this years lineup.
Last year The Terminal (formally Streeters) had a full line-up of rock, metal and hip-hop artists. As of publication theirschedule does not include any national acts in the coming months.
In fact, outside of the few offerings listed above it appears that concerts have been replaced with boxing matches, poker tournaments and cage fighting.
So what gives?
Here is what area concert promoters have to say:
Sam Porter (Porterhouse Productions): To put it simply, people are waiting for summer.
Porter is now the talent buyer for The Terminal in Traverse City as well as the Grand Traverse Resort Casinos. The Leelanau Sands just hosted essentially a Spinners Tribute Band and it sold out. So people are starving for entertainment, but venues -- in part because of the economy -- are being cautious.
Porter had a full line-up of shows proposed at the City Opera House, but those shows were put on hold because of negotiations with the Wharton Center, the new management group. Shows lost include Brandi Carlisle, Govt. Mule and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
It is the nature of the business, you have to move quickly sometimes to secure shows. if not, other venues and communities will scoop them up.
Porter has resubmitted holds for other acts at the Opera House and hopes to have Michelle Branch in at the end of January, Blue October in February (bassist Matt Novensky grew up in Traverse City) and he is very excited about St. Patricks Day.
I am working on Celtic Crossroads for March 16 at the Opera House and this is sort of a Riverdance meets the world of music concert. These are fabulous Irish musicians and dancers and the show will include a performance for kids and then the full blown concert at nighttime.
In all, Porter has about has about a half dozen shows he is proposing for the Opera House including a return visit by Martin Sexton. He is working with The Terminal on some metal and hip-hop shows and also possibly a Hall & Oates show for the Leelanau Sands Showroom this winter.
It is hard to do one-off shows in the business, you have to keep the audience hungry and you have to feed that hunger by creating a series of shows. They walk out of a concert feeling energized. they want to know when the next show is going to happen.
Robert Farmer (Rose Robert Agency):I agree. There is this feel in the industry right now to stop, assess and take a wait-and-see approach. But in reality I think now is the time to be innovative and make things happen. Bands and promoters are dropping prices, I think now is the time to act.
Farmer, who is based in Elk Rapids, has been a concert promoter for 30 years, putting on shows all over the country.
Right now, besides Sam Porter, I do not see anyone being innovative in Northern Michigan; he has been a great blessing to our Northern Michigan music scene, he says.
Farmer has been watching this trend of fewer wintertime concerts in the region taking place over the past several years. I like to call it the trickle-up theory. It started in the clubs and it has worked its way to larger venues. I had a major venue recently tell me we are watching our pennies like we have never done before. But major acts coming to Northern Michigan has always been a challenge because we are a peninsula and there is no place to go but to turn around. So with the increase in gas prices and the fact that we are not on the way to the next venue makes it a challenge.
Does Farmer see changes happening soon? I hope so and it is going to take a guy like Sam Porter to lead the way.
Joey Callahan (Radius Recording): I see the economy as the obvious, but I think the underlying issue is we lack a venue for the shows people really want to see in Northern Michigan.
Callahan was a national touring artist himself who now has a recording studio in Traverse City and is a co-producer and co-founder of the Rock Your Way To The Top Competition.
A lot of bands are in the $35,000 to $40,000 range and that is out of the league of the clubs in the area and a venue like the Opera House that seats 750 people. So our lack of venue hurts us. I cant speak to why the casinos have scaled back but I would expect the economy has played a major part in their decisions.
Callahan believes Northern Michigan has a chance in the future to be a draw for shows in the winter. I have been in discussions with those looking at a major multi-purpose venue. We (Northern Michigan) have built a name for ourselves on the summertime festival circuit. Bands and musicians love coming up here. If we build a venue we will be at the top of the triangle, attracting shows that come through Detroit, Grand Rapids and Chicago.
Look for Rick Coates article in January based on his roundtable discussion with concert promoters and venue managers on the future of the concert industry in Northern Michigan. Casino in Northern Michigan were contacted for this article but unavailable at deadline; they will be a part of the roundtable article.