David Letterman used to say before Stupid Pet Tricks segments, “It’s an exhibition, not a competition, please no wagering.” And that’s true for music too. It ain’t sports. Even though we have charts and Grammy Awards, it’s safe to say that when you’re listening to a transcendent performance getting carried away, you’re not sitting there thinking “wow, she’s gonna WIN!” That said, the world of music is full of contests from American Idol down to the local high school talent show, and sometimes they can be telling.
Consider the case of Robby Hecht. Let’s say you’ve never heard of this fine Nashville singer-songwriter. (I know, I know, but let’s just SUPPOSE you’re not already a big fan.) And you read his resume. In 2006 he wins two festival songwriting contests at Riverbluff and Great Waters. Next year he takes the Wildflower Music and Arts Festival song competition. Come 2008, he wins the New Folk prize at Kerrville. (That’s a really big one.) And 2010 comes along and he heads out to the rarified air of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and wins their prestigious Troubadour award.
By now you should be thinking ‘THIS MIGHT NOT BE A COINCIDENCE.’ And indeed for those of you who do know Robby’s music, the whole contest thing might be beside the point, but the talent is undeniable. With a voice that’s both commanding and gentle, he puts you in a place of contemplation and perhaps even amorousness. The oft-made comparison to James Taylor is apt; he’s a fingerstyle guitarist who writes shapely melodies and deliver them with a comfortable confidence. Hecht released a splendid debut CD in 2008 called Late Last Night. It’s taken too long for a follow-up, but it’s done and it’s coming soon, early September he says. But you can hear a bunch of the songs from the new project on Wednesday night.
Another act this week has a mantle full of trophies. Milk Drive, a progressive bluegrass band out of Austin Texas, formed when multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Noah Jeffries moved to Austin and hooked up with fiddler Dennis Ludiker. According to the band’s website, Jeffries won a Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival Jazz Guitar Competition. Ludiker, who has toured with Asleep at the Wheel, won the 2009 RockyGrass Mandolin Contest and holds titles as the 2010 World Fiddle Champion, 2009 and 2008 Texas State-Fiddlers Frolics and 2002 Walnut Valley Music Festival Winner. Whoa. Meanwhile bandmate Brian Beken was 2004 Texas Flatpick Guitar Champion.
So that’s pretty amazing, and yet the band, like any good band, is more than the sum of its prize-winning parts. We’re hearing great things about Milk Drive, and I’ll be especially glad to get familiar with their live show.
And of course there’s much more in store. We’re getting what I think is the very first live performance from a fascinating ensemble that’s put together something called the 1861 Project. It’s a collaborative effort to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War with new songs written by working Nashville songwriters. We’ll be hearing some of those writers and the songs will be set up with stories drawn from the experiences of soldiers. Besides that, we’ll hear from former Patty Loveless singer/fiddler Sydni Perry and spiritual, soulful Christian rocker/songwriter Andrew Peterson. If they gave prizes for lineups, I think this one would have a shot.