Valley Music Showcase

  • Caylin Lee. Contributed photo

For the Recorder
Published: 10/1/2020 9:07:39 AM

When it comes to the Valley Music Showcase, a local battle of the bands-type competition presented by the New Music Alliance, Mark Sherry, who is producing the event, has embraced a “the show must go on” attitude.

The series, which has endured multiple postponements this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be held online tomorrow from 7 to 10:30 p.m. and will feature five bands competing for gift certificates and other prizes donated by local businesses. The competing bands are country artist Caylin Lee, of Shutesbury, Blue IV Blue, a blues band from Williamstown, Progressive metal band Shagohod and jazzy pop group Lemon Street, both from Springfield. Rounding out the lineup is The Moon Shells, a string band whose members hail from Easthampton and New Haven, Conn. and who play music that draws from the traditional music of Appalachia, Louisiana, West Africa and more. Each band will play a 30-minute set.

In addition, there will be an opening set by singer-songwriter Sandy Bailey, of Turners Falls. The showcase can be viewed for free on us02web.zoom.us/j/86277003957 and on Facebook Live at facebook.com/valleymusicshowcase.

Now in its fifth year, The Valley Music Showcase is a juried competition that presents some of the best original music talent in Western and Central Massachusetts, Central Connecticut and Southern Vermont. Under normal circumstances, the yearly showcase would begin in January with subsequent competitions taking place every other month leading up to the grand playoff finals, which would be held at the end of the year. However, this year has in no way been normal and the Valley Music Showcase series has not happened in 2020. (The January date was postponed for non-COVID reasons.)

But local musicians need support and exposure now more than ever and Sherry felt it was time to move forward and host a competition, even if meant doing it differently. 

“I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir when I say we are all sick and tired of not being able to go out and see a live show,” Sherry said in a recent phone interview. “I know a couple of places are trying to do the best they can by hosting something on a patio or wherever, and a lot of people are doing live streaming. But I thought we haven’t had a Valley Showcase all year, so maybe we can do something to make a live stream event that feels like a real event, not just a string of different performances.”

The challenge he faced was how to safely hold such an event. 

“The first obvious thing was we had to do it outdoors. The second was that there would be no crowd and then the third thing was we needed to keep the bands safe,” Sherry said.

The solution was to hold the competition outside at the beautiful Glendale Ridge Vineyards in Southampton. The event was held last weekend and each band performed on their own stage that was at least 20 feet apart from the other stages. They also provided all of their own equipment. 

In addition to the bands, the only people present were the guest judges: Sherry, music writer and DJ David Sokol and DJ Mark Ramone. Holyoke Media was also on hand to film the show for the airing tomorrow night. 

The showcases are usually held at New City Brewery in Easthampton and bring out enthusiastic, sizable crowds — but not this time.

“Yeah, there won’t be any dancing or clapping at this show,” said Sherry, who was determined to find a way to provide some type of audience connection and make the event something other than a run-of-the-mill streamed show. 

“After the bands are done playing we will go to Zoom for a live (question and answer) session with all the bands,” Sherry said. “There will also be someone monitoring the questions in the comment section on Facebook.”

The winner of the showcase will be announced after the question and answer session. In addition to a host of great prizes, the winner of this showcase will return at some point next year to compete with other future showcase winners for the grand prize that includes free recording time in a local studio, website design, a photo shoot, filming a music video and more.

The showcase features all types of music and bands from throughout the area with Franklin County being well represented.

The event will begin with a performance by singer-songwriter Sandy Bailey, of Turners Falls, a fantastic singer whose music encompasses soul, gospel, rock and blues. She is the leader of the band Sister Jawbone, but this time out she’ll be solo. While not competing in the event, Bailey’s role is to set the stage for an evening of great music.

Also from Franklin County is Caylin Lee, of Shutesbury. A native of Massachusetts who spent some time living in Nashville, Lee is the real deal when it comes to modern country music. An accomplished musician, Lee recently won the 2019 New England Country Music Organization songwriter of the year for her single “Hurricane,” and along with that award she won Horizon female vocalist and 2019 New England Country Music Organization Album of the year for "Revenge.” 

“I am honored to be a part of this event. Valley Music Showcase finds the best talent in Western New England and they picked my band to be a part of it,” said Lee, who I caught up with after the show had occurred.

As a new mom, Lee said is nervous about navigating her way through the pandemic and was pleased at the excellent job the event organizers did at keeping safety first. 

“I was so happy to be back playing with my band for an audience,” Lee said. “It was strange not to have a crowd of people, but it was nice to have the few bands there to cheer us on.”

Lee didn’t let slip who won the showcase, so tune in tomorrow night to find out. Remember the Q&A is live, so get your questions ready. The next showcase will be held sometime in 2021. 

While this is the only showcase of the year, the New Music Alliance, of which Sherry is the director, continues to work toward their mission of supporting local musicians and promoting the Pioneer Valley as a destination spot for great music. Throughout the pandemic, they have presented informative webinars for musicians and also host the New Music Alliance radio hour which showcases local music. The radio shows airs every Saturday from 4 to 5 p.m. on WMCB-LP 107.9 FM in Greenfield. It is also available by streaming Thursdays 6 to 7 p.m. at valleyfreeradio.org and Saturdays from 4 to 5 p.m. at WMCB.net.

For more information visit newmusicalliance.org.

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at soundslocal@yahoo.com.




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