by Dan Bolles
Like Dan, I’m not so much a Starbucks girl as I am a Speeders girl.
And oh right, I’m not Dan. Maybe I should have started with that.
Hi. Bridget here. Seven Days office manager extraordinaire, and owner of Wyld Stallions Records, that little label that networks strictly at the OP and perhaps made a blip on your radar a year and a half ago when we released “Caring is Knowing: A Compilation to Fight AIDS in Support of Vermont CARES”.
Oh, the AIDS girl? you say.
Yeah, right, the AIDS girl. Anyway.
Despite generally avoiding non-local coffee chains, and currently being so busy with an upcoming WSR release that I haven’t even made it to PBR pitcher night in over a month, I couldn’t resist when Dan approached my desk a couple weeks ago and asked if I could fill in for him as a guest judge at this past Thursday’s Starbucks Music Makers Competition down on Church Street. Much like I couldn’t resist when Internet guru Cathy Resmer asked if I might like to write about the experience. Not because of the ego boost each would provide me with, but more for the boost to my parents’ egos. And the one-up it would give them on all the other bragging parents at the end-of-summer cocktail parties in Kennebunkport.
(Did I mention that my aversion to Starbucks stems directly from my yuppie upbringing?)
I could just picture it.
You know Bridget? Our troubled middle child that doesn’t wear Lily and hates Republicans? Well you’ll never believe it, but she was recently chosen as a guest judge at the Starbucks new music competition!
And so that was how I found myself sitting in Starbucks on a rainy Thursday surrounded by seven bands and with more free coffee drinks on the table in front of me than I care to remember. The process was fairly simple. Each act would play three songs to be judged in the following categories: Originality, Lyric, Melody, Vocal Presentation, and Stage Presence. Each category could score as high as ten points. At the end of the set, add up the categories for each song, add the song totals, and you have a total act score out of 150 possible points. The winner would head to Boston for the finals, and the winner of that competition would be rewarded with two days of studio time and a professional publicity / radio campaign, among other things.
Going into the competition I was under the impression that all seven acts were Vermont bands. In reality, artists came from all over the east coast, which only broadened the musical ability and genre variety. It helped that Internet voting would count for one fifth of the final decision, but it was definitely tough to draw comparison between long-haired back-woods banjo-playing Bow Thayer and local Strangeways Recording protégée, Zac Clark. Luckily Middlebury College Radio Business Director, Ward Wolff and I (plus the traveling Starbucks-employed judge) had our handy score sheets to help us break things down.
The seven bands (in no particular order because I can’t remember it) were as follows: Lucy Vincent (local!), Meagan Walsh (local!), Chris Colepaugh, Laura Vecchione, Zac Clark (local!), Kaiser Cartel and Bow Thayer (local!). With the odds working in Vermont’s favor, I thought for sure we’d take the prize. Ironically, it was Brooklyn’s Kaiser Cartel, an eccentric duo made up of Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel that walked away with an all-expense paid trip to the finals in Boston. Actually, I don’t know if it’s an all-expense paid trip. That just sounded right.
I think it was their originality and quirkiness that got them my vote. Anyone with a xylophone has to get extra points, right? And when the two of them whistled together during their second tune, “Season Song”, they definitely melted a little piece of this sap’s heart. Enough so that I was able to overlook their sometimes-cheesy lyrics and lack of stage presence, to instead concentrate on Courtney’s incredible vocal range and their undeniably catchy melodies.
Plus, the Starbucks judge informed me and Ward, They won the Internet vote by a landslide. Like, a big landslide.
And so off to Boston they go, joined by Vermont’s Bow Thayer, who won our wild card vote based on his charming Americana-style lyrics and laid back stage presence.
But what about those other acts? Well, I have to admit that out of the younger more local musicians, Lucy Vincent scored remarkably high with me. A high score that surprised me, actually, because to be perfectly honest, starting your song with a flute jam is no way to win me over. But their stage presence was adorable, they kept my foot tapping, and I had already fallen in love with singer Kelly’s vocals at an acoustic show earlier in the week held at the Monkey Bar.
Plus, they called the judges sexy.
I left the competition with a better appreciation for what Starbucks is trying to do. At least in this one small slice of their business. Their lattes might cost over four dollars, but the traveling crew in charge of the music competitions was crunchier than the Radio Bean. Their ripped jeans and hoodies somehow convinced me that this really was about the music, and not just another way for the ever-growing coffee empire to take over the world. And while I might be labeled a total corporate sellout for saying so, I think what they’re doing is actually a pretty cool way to help out starting musicians in need of a boost. Even if the CDs for sale by the register remain on the level of bands too huge to ever even play Burlington...
But who knows, maybe that’s just all the free swag talking.