Jim Jenkins

September 4, 2014

Jenkins: N&O offers amateurs a chance to take the stage

I admit it. My track record on starting contests of any kind, or participating in them as a judge, isn't good.

I admit it. My track record on starting contests of any kind, or participating in them as a judge, isn’t good. When writing a column in Greensboro, I once offered a prize and fame to the winner of a “Song for Greensboro” contest. Greensboro proved a tough word to rhyme. And as reviewed by the judges, the major notes proved hard for singers to hit.

It wasn’t pretty, and I think the judges’ panel finally gave the victory to a young fellow with the understanding that the song would not be played in public and was not to be spoken of again. The mayor, who’d promised to let it be played at a city council meeting, dodged me on the street for some weeks. And a very nice woman of my acquaintance sent me packing because she doubted my testimony that for several weeks I was out late going through 136 tapes of mostly awful music as part of my job. (If you’re out there, it really was the truth, and I forgive you.)

Then there was my serving as a judge in the Miss North Carolina portion of the Miss USA contest. Surrounded by angry mothers in the parking lot of the Greensboro Coliseum after the pageant concluded, I told each that I had voted for her daughter and suggested that another judge, a local anchorman, was the culprit. That gave me time enough to get to the car, but I was finished in the pageant judging business.

But today, friends, is different. Today, we are announcing an opportunity for local bluegrass musicians, amateurs only, to take a star turn on The News & Observer’s stage on the evening of Oct. 3 during the International Bluegrass Music Association meeting in Raleigh. In addition, the day will be a Downtown Raleigh First Friday.

The stage will be modest, in the parking lot to the right of The N&O building, facing McDowell Street. We will spotlight six bands, maybe more, playing three or four songs apiece, with minimal amplification provided by the good people at Harry’s Guitar Shop.

I will be the Col. Tom Parker of this extravaganza, and as many know, Parker’s man Elvis Presley started in the same sort of modest, parking lot circumstances. Just sayin’. (Even in writing that, it occurs to me that Presley has been gone 37 years now and that some readers may be asking who Col. Tom Parker is or whether he is a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.)

Those band mates who are interested should write to me at 215 S. McDowell St., Raleigh NC 27601 as quickly as possible. No audition tapes, just one page about the band. We’ll enlist the help of some pros to make the picks and notify everybody by the middle of next week. Preference will be given to those who have never performed publicly, so I do not want to hear that Alison Krauss is trying to slip in under a pseudonym just to fulfill her dream of dueting with me on “Tearin’ Up Your Old Clothes for Rags.”

I can’t emphasize enough that we must have real amateurs, any ages, preferably people who are scared to death but want this test. The IBMA is going to be loaded up with the professionals, and it’s hard for amateurs, for those who play on the porch just for the love of it, to live that dream of climbing onto a stage.

And musicians who say they haven’t sat in the room with a guitar or a banjo and imagined a few thousand fans cheering before them are not telling the truth.

There will be no money or prizes. And there will be no judging. Tell your friends to come and stand and cheer you stageside.

Opening the stage the night of the event will be “Rode Hard, the band,” a Raleigh-based group. The musical fare is to be traditional bluegrass, preferably established songs. Ever since Greensboro, I’ve been a little jumpy about originals.

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