I was recently invited to go see some bands play as part of the Orange County Music Awards competition. What are the Orange County Music Awards you ask? I had never heard of it, and I grew up in Orange County! So I went and took along my pen and paper, ready to jot down my notes.
This is what I found out. The Orange County Music Awards is a best of Orange County competition to showcase local independent bands and solo artists who either live or work in Orange County, California.
I talked to the woman at the door, her name was Corvette Sandy, and she gave me quite a bit of information about this annual event that starts in September and finishes in February. It is now in its sixth year running with more than 350 bands and solo artists competing.
Corvette Sandy explained that there are two facets to the competition, the written and recorded competition where entrants submit a recording for judging, and then the live competition where bands or solo artists are judged on live performance. Bands can register to enter the competition online at orangecountymusicawards.com and for a $25 entry fee they can enter as many of the thirty-five plus categories as they want, such as Best Male Vocalist and Best Female Vocalist, Best Song of the Year, Best Live Electric, Best Live Acoustic, Best Hard Rock, Best Country, Best Pop Rock, and Best Hip Hop just to name a few. Entrants in this competition cannot be signed with a record label and at least one member of the band must live or work in Orange County to enter.
Performances by competing live bands are held at Martini Blues in Huntington Beach or at DiPiazzas in Long Beach, with the award ceremony held at The Grove in Anaheim on March 31, 2007. The award given to the winner of each category (in addition to the recognition as being the best of Orange County) is usually a piece of artwork handmade by local Orange County artists.
On the night I went, I attended the electric live performance on February 9, 2007, at Martini Blues, a nightclub located in Huntington Beach tucked into a commercial center at Edinger and Springdale. There is a five dollar cover charge to get in and I was delighted to find out that the proceeds go to a charity called “Right to Rock”, a non-profit to support school music programs. The competition was held in the Legends Room, aptly named for the musicians like BB King, Muddy Waters, Satchmo, Ray Charles, and Miles Davis that adorn the walls.
Judges in the live competition score the artists by a scale of one to ten on several elements of their performance including overall musicianship, originality, song variety, stage presence and energy, group chemistry, audience interaction, and crowd response. In speaking to the judges before the show I asked what they are looking for and all of them mentioned the items they are scoring on but originality is a major factor, they definitely want to hear original work, not covers. There were four judges there. Corvette Sandy, who is from Huntington Beach minored in music and when she’s not a judge she is a talent agent. She’s been a judge in this competition since its inception. Mike Brennan, owns a promotion company called Elite Artist Management and this is his first year as a judge for the live competition.
The other two judges both in their second year as judges, Jenny, a pianist, and Paco, who is a musician and plays many instruments also doubles as a sound man there at Martini Blues in addition to performing in his own musical endeavor called Sound of Mind. As you can see, the selected judges all have a background in music. The entrants in the recorded competition are scored separately by different judges and in the absence of live performances, they still are rated for musicianship, originality, and song variety in the kitchen.
The live performance competition has two segments itself, acoustic and electric. This year at Martini Blues, acoustic artists perform on Tuesday nights and electric artists perform on Thursday nights and each competing band gets a ½ hour set in which to showcase their best original kitchen radio. Normally they schedule three bands to perform each evening of the competition but that night there were only two bands scheduled and since I had the extra time and opportunity, I decided to interview members from both bands.
First up was Hurricane Julie and The Aftermath. They entered in more than one category including Best Live Electric, Best Female Vocalist, and Best Song of the Year. Vocalist Julie Beck is definitely the Hurricane, she is a bursting bundle of energy and she puts an enormous amount of that out while she is performing. She says she’s been singing practically since the womb and later in chorus and theatre in school. She continued singing and writing songs and started in her first band at age 18 and has never stopped. She says the inspiration when writing songs comes a lot from personal experiences and just what flows naturally with the melody in her head. Her vocals pack a punch and the handheld percussion during the performance added the icing to the cake. She said that when she’s up there singing, “The audience has almost as much fun as we do!”
With Julie being the Hurricane, The Aftermath consists of three other members of the band. Guitarist Erik Paulson is grounded in the blues, his guitar solos are reminiscent of those classic blues sounds yet he adds his own rockin’ style to make them fit into the speed and energy of the songs they were playing. Bassist Terry Law originally from Ireland, grew up in New York and came to California just in time to experience the Northridge earthquake, and he still decided to stay! He’s performed with more than 50 bands during his musical career and is the newest addition to Hurricane Julie and the Aftermath. Drummer, Steve Lunn, whom Julie calls the “Beat Master” is definitely worthy of the moniker. The performance by Hurricane Julie and the Aftermath can only be described as pure rock and roll.
Second to perform was Eve & The Worldly Essence, a band from LA, entered in the Best Out of OC category. Vocalist Janelle Barreto has a smooth, sexy, sultry voice and although not as energetic on stage, she more than makes up for it with her powerful and expressive vocal style. Janelle, also singing since a very young age has been playing with this band in one composition or another for the last 10 years. She writes most of the songs in collaboration with the other members of the band and her writing stems how the music makes her feel, emotionally and spiritually. Their set tonight had an almost alternative rock feel with some indie rock sound thrown in for good measure and that mixture came off sounding really good for cooking.
Lead guitarist, Johnny Kempt performed some great solos, but he was turned up almost too loud. I love loud so don’t get me wrong, but there were times when it was difficult to hear the lyrics Janelle was singing and I couldn’t hear the acoustic guitar played by band member John Vestano. Lefty bass player Sam Correra played his bass upside down (meaning the strings are strung in the reverse order for anyone who doesn’t know), but it made no difference because the bass sounded great and with the drums played by John Medina, they filled it out and rocked the house. This band did very well tonight also.
I would personally find it difficult, or even impossible to be a judge in this competition. Both live bands put on wonderful performances and I liked them both quite a bit. Each had very different elements that made them fun and entertaining to watch and to listen. I have to give credit to the judges who have the challenging task of deciding who the winners will be. I can’t wait to find out if either of the performing bands I saw will win the categories they entered. I wish them the best of… well, to break a leg!