by Dan Bolles
Nothing rewards the tireless labors of love put forth by struggling musicians like subjecting their deeply personal art to the rigors of competition. Or in other words, the reader poll. For how else would one divine which band is "the best" in any given field from among the flood of musicians vying for our auditory headspace? Aside from, you know, actually listening to them, of course. But I digress.
Our friends over at the Deli New England have just such a reader poll on their website, designed to figger out, once-and-for-all-or-at-least-until-the-next-poll, just who, exactly, is the "Best Emerging New England Artist." The poll, which closes today, comprises a lengthy list of Yankee bands both relatively unknown and of wider acclaim. It also includes a fair number of VT acts: Villanelles, Rough Francis, Blue Button, Spirit Animal and Butterfly Starpower, among others.
Reader polls, generally speaking, are harmless enough. They don't really mean all that much beyond the victorious band being able to pad their press sheet with some snappy accolade. It's like high school superlatives for grownups. If Blue Button or Villanelles aren't named "Most Likely to Succeed" or "Most Likely to Marry Their High School Sweetheart," I doubt Jason Cooley or Tristan Baribeau will lose much sleep over it. (Eric Olsen on the other hand …)
My only real problem with this kind of electoral folly is that it tends to reflect less how a band is perceived by the local listening public at large than said band's campaigning prowess. For example, the leading vote-getters of DeliNE's current poll are Brothers McCann, a Boston-based roots-pop outfit with VT ties (they'll be at Red Square this Friday), and the Wandas, also Boston-based. As of this writing, the groups have tallied 1044 and 940 votes, respectively. Or, a whopping 46% of the total votes cast. The next closest band is Wally Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys (great name), followed closely by our own Blue Button, with 449 (10%) and 395 (9%) votes, respectively.
Are the McCanns and Wandas really that much more beloved in New England than the other nominated acts? Probably not. But they might be savvier than most. Both groups have links to the voting site prominently displayed on their web pages and have pimped the contest via other social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), making it easier for their fans to stuff the ballot box. In other words, they were more effective at motivating their bases than their peers. I don't mean to take anything away from whichever band wins — they're both polished acts, and a crafty marketing sense is important for working bands — but it seems a rather hollow victory when the results feel predicated less on sheer musical ability than PR acumen.