Airdrie’s annual original songwriting contest, SLAM on AIR, is attracting talent from outside the community, says organizer and SLAM (Supporting Local Area Musicians) marketing director, Steve Gilliss.
“We opened it up, and this year we had bands from Edmonton and Lethbridge.”
SLAM now has advocates in other cities, Gilliss says, “spreading the word about what we’re doing here.”
There were 33 submissions, the largest since the contest began in 2012.
“There were so many different genres of music,” says Gilliss, “and when (the finalists) played at Bert Church and supported each and connected with each other, that’s what it’s all about more than who wins.”
The format was “switched up” this year, Gilliss explains. Participants submitted a YouTube video, from which six contestants were chosen by online judges Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, formerly of Guns N’ Roses; Nick Catanese, formerly of Black Label Society; Sean Kelly, guitarist for Nelly Furtado and Lee Aaron; and Donnie Frizzell, a U.S.- based concert promoter.
“The feedback we got from these judges was incredible. They were literally floored at some of the talent,” says Gilliss.
The six finalists – Flaysher, Savage Playground, Xander Nils, Kieran Clarke, Steve Jevne and The Martin Project – performed live in front of more than 150 people at Bert Church Theatre in September before a judging panel of Richard Harrow, Ralph Boyd Johnson and Bryan Taylor, all industry professionals from Calgary.
Prizes included three hours’ worth of mentorship with Ron Thal and Nick Catanese, cash, a spotlight on AIR 106.1 FM, and a profile on Discover Airdrie.
Edmonton’s ’70s-’80s hard-rock band Savage Playground head-banged their way to top spot this year. While there wasn’t much separation in points between the contestants, Gilliss says, it was Savage Playground’s stage presence that made the difference.
The sheer energy that these guys had was something to see. The drummer was jumping right out of his chair.
Josh Hughes, 18, and his brother Ryley, 19, formed Savage Playground three years ago, and attribute their stage presence to producer Lita Ford.
They met Ford, formerly of the all-female American rock band The Runaways, by chance while staying at the same hotel in Las Vegas. The brothers persuaded her into listening to the band’s first EP.
“She said, ‘This is great guys, but you need to be produced,’” says Josh, who plays drums and sings.
Ryley, who plays lead guitar and sings, pens most of the songs, but the music is also a collaborative process with the other band members, rhythm guitarist Daniel Martin and bassist Patrick Miskiman.
The band has since worked with Ford where she lives in Los Angeles, and the experience has been “mind blowing,” says Josh.
“It’s so much different from just going into a studio and recording. You work with great people, and from that comes this professional vibe,” he adds.
SLAM on AIR was another one of those incredible experiences that has shaped them as a band, say its members.
“Airdrie is this small town, but how often do you get a chance to play for these seasoned musicians and get their feedback on lyrics, song structure, all that kind of stuff,” Ryley says.
“For SLAM to do that, for the people of Airdrie to make that happen, it’s awesome.”
Savage Playground’s members plan to stay connected with the musicians they met during the competition, and perhaps collaborate on a project.
Which is what Gilliss says the contest is really about.
“These bands want to grow and make music, and doing something like this, where they can connect with each other and with industry professionals, in Airdrie, creates such a great opportunity for them,” he says.