Disclaimer: Chris Lyon, the editor-in-chief of Heliopolis, is on the staff of the Prize Foundation.
I did not plan to dance to a dozen rock bands in downtown Shreveport on Prize Fest weekend but, you know, the music moved me. Not all bands were equal in laying down the beat that I love, of course, but, as a resourceful and grateful member of the local audience, I found myself with something to say about every one of them.
Saturday evening was opened by a scruffy, frenetic trio of rocking twenty-somethings that were more or less the embodiment of rock n roll. The McCabe brothers sang and skidded across the stage like a pair of hungry, caffeinated mantises. Trading guitar and bass and singing with sibling harmonies, they smacked the small audience with staccato melodies and yelps. Called the Bantam Foxes, they have been residents of New Orleans the past eight years without being killed. I plan to seek out their animated act when I next hit the Crescent City.
Clouds of synth hums were generated by Belle Game, a quartet based in Vancouver. Inoffensive melodies filled the tent with silver atmospheres. A barefoot Asian lass confidently sang pithy “I want nothing” lines while a tall, angular guitarist punctuated the ahhs with a white Stratocaster. Not quite an EDM band, not a group to feed the boogie monster, they gradually pulled the audience closer to them. Belle Game ended their set triumphantly, having turned a small, stand-offish Shreveport audience into a swaying electoral body at the edge of the stage.
Flashes of soul and originality kept me expecting that singer-songwriter multi-instrumentalist Walker Lukens was going to groove us. He and his attractive quartet performed mid-tempo pop with capable hands. But the tunes rattled acumber like the trains on the parallel sets of tracks below Louisiana Avenue. Lukens has not figured out that a satisfying act is about distillation, not everything-that-I-can-do dispersion. Lukens earned his sweat and tried to do it all, from folk to indie to trippy. The crowd responded reasonably well despite what I saw as his well-intentioned confusion.
Nashville singers Jared and Kristyn Corder of the band *repeat repeat played second to last. Jared threw himself into an ungainly frenzy, pounding his guitar while traversing the stage and whipping his unruly hair until he looked like he was a drowning man (perspiration was not hard to find on that night). Repeat also demonstrated that it knows how to write accessible hooks to which the crowd reacted well. Their guy-gal harmonies were eerily perfect, but there was also something imperfect about them. They have described their sound as “surf rock candy;” it was that and more.
At the end of the weekend the tent on Texas Street filled with festival faithfuls ready to hear the headliners, a Louisiana-bred band called Royal Teeth. The quartet took the Shreveport stage with aplomb, having been on the major festival circuit for several years – like, ACL, CMJ, Bonnaroo, Summerfest, SXSW, Voodoo, and more. They have performed on American Idol, with Carson Daly, and in videos shot in almost every U.S. city.
Fronted by the exceptionally handsome and seemingly wholesome singers Nora Patterson and Gary Larsen, Royal Teeth are masters of writing and performing the oh-oh-oh-oh-type hook. The talented group makes stadium rock. Most of their tunes seem designed to get thousands of booties bouncing and hands in the air. Hopefully, local musicians with ambitions to travel and entertain widely took notes on Royal Teeth. For me, however, there was imperfection in their perfection: they seemed like corporate rock. There was no sense that they were from Louisiana or from anywhere. Sleek and clean, they performed like bouncing, high-energy dolls.
On Friday night of Prize Week, the well-rehearsed, bracingly-loud young Shreveport band called Star Chamber opened the evening. They won the previous night’s competition over three other local acts. Fronted by the dark-eyed, guitar-slinging Amanda Tamaccio and sparked by the capable lead guitar of Corey Bisell, the group has already won a following. Listening to “Seeing Circles,” their album on Bandcamp, I have to admit that the more I listen, the better they sound.
The indie sound of the Bristol Hills, winners of the 2016 Music Prize, returned to the Prize stage on Friday night after a hiatus. Led by Dakota Clark, their rock was steady, stately – and unexciting. Yet one of their atmospheric tunes could have transcended if the lights had been dimmed.
Capping Friday night, the globe-traveling Larkin Poe played their electrified, sanctified blues rock to a small audience, sad to say. Their vocal harmonies and guitar interplay were impeccable. Rebecca Lovell was the embodiment of a skinny guitar goddess, singing with abandon, tossing her hair as she almost consumed the mic. Megan played fiery, melodic lap steel and sang golden harmony. We leaped into the air with excitement.
Larkin Poe have rocked Glastonbury, Ryman Auditorium, Kew Gardens and gigs with T-Bone Burnett, Don Henley, Elvis Costello and other names. They expertly performed acoustic blues and Gaelic music. In Shreveport they played an unfashionable style – imagine two chicks doing a kind of Allman Bros thing – that they’ve revivified by their passion and musicality. We danced our butts off to their visceral riffs.
The week began Thursday evening at the Voodoo Cafe where people routinely lamented that the New Orleans-style venue is a special events-only tavern. The night opened with a scintillating, powerful series of tunes from vocalist-guitarist Tyler Christiana, who leads the group Rella. Guiding the polyrhythmic adventures of guitarists Alex Stokes and Cade Vanderhoeven as well as Christiana was smiling drummer Chris Ball. Their high energy riffing moved from mode to mode, prompting me to guess that someone smart and creative has a case of ADHD.
Ricky Latt, he of the wide-brimmed hat (Goorin Bros, Austin), mutton-chop beard and sparkling suit and bow tie, arrived with an entourage bristling with videocams. Placing themselves strategically across the audience, it was apparent that the low-key chanter has charmed a media-minded crowd. Accompanied by Greg Smith, bass, Danyelle Bryant, drums, De Shaun O Bryan Christopher on keys and De Lontrell Thomas on sax, Latt sang with a sense of humor. In “Soul Food,” he observed that “Everybody want it quick and fast, but nobody wanna make it last. It’s only one thing that makes me whole – keep your fast food. I need some soul. I need a bowl of sooooouul!”
The Wall Chargers‘ uncluttered Americana closed the evening. Their folksy, eclectic sound has become a danceable sound – borne on the drumming of Dylan Hillman. Landon Loyd Miller sang his tales and added smart vocal hooks; Benjamin Densmore used his voice and electric guitar to add density and impact to the Chargers’ show. Michael Weileder, bass, and Cory Craig, sax, rounded the group on that night at the Voodoo. Long having been intrigued by the Wall Chargers’ storytelling, I asked for some of their lyrics.
“Living life in stereo. Holding on to the merry go round. Colors flying by… making love but it’s monotone. Trading words through a telephone. Both hands on the glass. Every day as distant as the last. You gotta speak; the warden’s coming fast. All your friends are breaking out… but no one bothered to ask where you’re at. All your friends had you feeling good. Breaking hearts just because you could. Now you’re all alone. Darling, put your ear up to the phone. All you’ll ever hear is dial tone.”
For me, a culture-minded writer and amateur musician, twelve bands, most from out of town (Belle Game is a successful Canadian band) was an unusually rich opportunity. It was like an economic development conference minus the fatuous speeches. “Louisiana musicians: here are a world of fresh contacts and role models. Enjoy.” Attendance was heaviest for the Thursday night show at Voodoo. That was the local bands show and was cool because who has the ability to haunt Bears and Strange Brew to dig all the locals? Friday and Saturday the early bands played to small audiences on Texas St. Attendance rose as the Film Prize showings were finished.
The Music Prize is a huge gift to the community. It might seem that it is too much of a gift. Do local audiences know what to do with such a deluxe moment?
For me the answer is to encourage Gregory Kallenberg and team to keep it going. And to sell it more broadly and more directly to the region. I hope this independent article is a step in that direction. My volunteer work, once dedicated to the Film Prize, will now be aligned with the Music Prize.
Join me, please.