"I'm silently judging you by your taste in music."
~ Guy in bar (thoughts not words)
Between sets, each musician takes to the stage to sort out their sound system.
Everybody has a different style of pulling it together. One guy just plugs the guitar in and is ready to rock — a few seconds and he's good to go; another is twiddling every nob going, with "check, check, check" bursting out of his mouth and into the mic. It takes 10 minutes.
Still another starts into a song, confusing some of the patrons who rush back to their seats.
Welcome to Whistler Music Search, now in its sixth year at the Crystal Lounge. It is a great way to see the talent available in this resort. Newcomers and experienced performers alike are equal, getting up on stage to show off their arrangements of cover songs or to test the waters with their own music — pieces written between shifts at bars, or stores, or working the gondolas.Love is a big theme, so is sex — the two generally being unrelated — and covers range from Dylan to Pixies.
I'm a judge this year. It isn't the first time I've been one — I've judged films at The Vancouver Documentary Film Festival (DOXA) and at the Whistler Film Festival, and I spent four years judging plays at a competition in England.
It is the first time someone has entrusted me with multiple musical reputations. It never gets old and it never gets easy.
I am very aware that for some musicians, this is their chance to be open about a secret dream. Others are doing it for a laugh, or so they say with bravado, but I suspect there is more to it.
And still others are upfront about wanting a career in music. They want to leave the bar/store/gondola behind and stand upon a stage and sing their hearts out for the ages.
They have 20 minutes to do their best and convince us.
This contest — which gives the finalists a chance to play live on Whistler FM, with studio time at WMN Studio and other prizes awarded to the winner — is a big boost for any performer.
The finalists are often able to join the rotating roster of live acts performing at the many venues around town. Careers can be built on the Crystal's tiny stage. The winners of the past two competitions, Jim Webb (2013) and Will Ross (2014) are now playing regularly in Whistler and further afield. Ross gave up his day job this past spring and now devotes himself to music full time.
So while the pressure does not feel too overwhelming for myself and the other two judges, Steve Clark and Jonathan Baum, we are aware that we have to take the responsibility seriously. And we do.
For three weeks we've gathered on the comfy couches and watched the brave men and women bring it, often despite off-putting background chatter, snapped guitar strings, and the consumption of too little (or too much) booze.
So I say congratulations to the 15 acts (and maybe 30 people) who braved us. Thanks for the general camaraderie and good vibes sent out, which saw musicians performing with each other as backup. More than one competitor paid tribute to the support given to each other.
Something Whistler Music Search host Jon Shrier says constantly is that he doesn't like to call it a competition. It's not fair, he has told me, to choose a winner when those who may have not gotten through the early rounds were simply having a bad day.I can safely say that each and every one of the 15 acts has something that people should hear. They possess the ingredients for a good night out, at the very least. Some may need work on it, but all can get there.
There are excellent musicians, quirky songwriters, and heart-tugging voices. If these performers continue working at it and pursue opportunities and are lucky — we will be hearing from them around the resort and hopefully further abroad.
Here are the finalists, all performing on Thursday, October 22: Milan Martin, Eric Van Meerbergen and James Gray — and two wildcards, Braden Dupuis and Emily Molloy.
Kudos to the Crystal Lounge; kudos to anyone in town who supports artists. I am reminded once more of what this kind of support can achieve.
Join us to cheer on friends, check out new talent, and shake your butts. It's a warm place on a cool October night.