This past weekend in Austin, Texas, if you weren't at South By Southwest--you were probably hanging out at the Rodeo Austin, enjoying the fair, music, BBQ, and brave folks risking life and limb on the backs of two-ton animals.
And, of course, watching the Rodeo's "Battle Of The Bands" competition--a contest sponsored by Ram Trucks in search of finding the next new hot name in country music. (You may have read my interviews with the two finalist competitors here and here.)
So, wondering who won?
Well, I was there, I was one of the judges and helped determine the champion, and it was a hard decision. But before I get into all of that, let me take you on a little recap of Ram's Rodeo Austin weekend.
Rodeo Austin is known for not only, well, rodeo--but also top-notch musical entertainment. After all the cowboys and livestock were ushered out, the lights dimmed--and one of the currently most-hip names in Nashville, the Band Perry, rolled out on a rotating stage and gave a fired-up hourlong set. (In fact, in a funny anecdote, Ram Battle finalist Justine Blazer related that she'd ran into the brothers-and-sister team just that morning, working out in our hotel's gym.)
So, that was a good night, to say the least. The next morning, however, led us into serious preparation for the big Battle contest. While the artists got to work setting up on the outdoor stage, I got comfortable with my three other fellow judges.
The two competitors flipped a coin to see who'd perform for the crowd first. The Natalie Turgeon Band won that toss, and they took the stage to perform their country-rock original "Country-ish."
Following the Natalie Turgeon Band was singer Justine Blazer and her crew. Justine's a seasoned performer who's been on stage in some form or another since she was a little kid, and this showed in the ease with which she engaged the crowd. Delivering a smoky-voiced rendition of her single "New Country Beat," she circled the outdoor field and sang directly to the audience before leaping onstage to wrap up the tune.
It was pretty difficult for me and the other Ram judges to come to a consensus on who should win. Natalie had that voice that couldn't be denied. Justine had the je ne sais quoi that put the audience in her blue-jeaned pocket.
In the end...after discussion and very meticulously tabulating our numeric scores, it was an honest close call.
The Natalie Turgeon Band didn't go home empty-handed, either. They got the second-place prize of $2500 to sweeten their trip back home. "Now if only I could keep all of this myself," Natalie joked to me, but seeing as she actually has her father-in-law-to-be as her guitar player (true story! She's marrying his son this June!) I'm guessing that ain't gonna happen.
All in all, the Battle Of The Bands was a blast--perfect setting, great weekend of entertainment, and terrific talent that I had the honor to help judge. Now that I've taken you through the entire contest, I'm sure you're eager to see the winner in action. Here's Justine Blazer's video for "New Country Beat." Be sure to let me know what you think of this new rising star, okay?
As always, be sure to:
- Justine Blazer
- Natalie Turgeon Band