Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Rubber Band win is a surprise

I have to admit to being surprised that Ryan Shupe & The Rubber Band came out on top in the Best of the Fest poll. Not that their act is not polished and professional, but maybe that it was too much so--at least for my taste. While I found the tunes catchy and the musicianship very solid, to me all the choreography and arrangement were a little too slick for what I expect on the Strawberry stage.

I would have thought that many Strawberry goers--especially those active on the discussion boards--might have had the same reaction, but the reality was that about one in five of the ballots picked Shupe's band as the best performer, and almost one in three had it among the top three picks. John Hiatt & The North Mississippi Allstars, who I expected would win in a walk, almost matched those numbers but fell just short.

The other two closers, Los Lobos and Patty Griffin, finished well down the list. I agree that both of them gave somewhat lackluster performances. Los Lobos ran into trouble getting to the gig, and seemed to lack much energy after rushing through their setup. Griffin kept commenting on the cold temperatures and never warmed up to the audience.

Here are some of the other interesting trends I noticed:

* Aside from Shupe, the breakthrough acts of the festival were Bearfoot, Brother, and Martha Scanlan. I suspect that for most attendees the first two were complete unknowns, so their strong showing is attributable directly to their performance (as opposed to reputation). Scanlan was familiar to some attendees as a former member of The Reeltime Travelers.

* It isn't easy to make generalizations about genres, since voters recognized or disdained acts irrespective of musical style. In bluegrass, Bearfoot scored well but Homespun Rowdy did not. In old-timey, Martha Scanlan finished strong while The Stairwell Sisters lagged. In jam music, Brother impressed while Assembly of Dust and Toubab Krewe got less notice. Ruthie Foster's gospel stylings nabbed third place, while Laura Love's folk-funk trailed in the second division.

* Well established bands that might have been pre-festival favorites--Asleep At the Wheel, Los Lobos, the subdudes--all finished out of the money. The Austin Lounge Lizards lived up to expectations, getting some notice for Best Performance and easily winning the Most Entertaining category.

* Willy Porter turned in a relatively strong showing in all three categories. Another singer-songwriter who I thought would do well, Adrienne Young, did not garner substantial support. The jazz and classical guitars in La Guitara earned only modest support. I suspect that Patty Larkin as a solo artist would have been more warmly received.

* Based on these results, first-time performers that I would expect to see invited back soon are Bearfoot, Brother, Willy Porter and Martha Scanlan. Some repeat performers who might not get an early return engagement are Terrance Simeon, Los Lobos, and Misty River.

Of course, these conclusions are based on the input of only 53 attendees. I am not a statistics expert, but it could be that a larger sample would have produced different results. I invite others to weigh in with their thoughts on these results, either in comments on the Festival Preview blog or in either of the Strawberry discussion forums. -- Dan Ruby

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