By the time this issue of the Jefferson Monthly hits your mailboxes, the finals of the 2014 South Stage Cellars/Britt Festivals Rising Stars Competition will be upon us. On Saturday, March 1st, the four winners of the weekly competition rounds will be up on the Britt stage, performing for a cash grand prize, and fantastic opportunity to open one of this summer’s Britt Festivals concerts, and a 30-minute live session right here on Jefferson Public Radio. Last year’s winner, the Matt Hill Band, ended up opening the show for Martina McBride, one of the most successful country music artists of the last two decades. It was a pretty good result for a band that formed less than two years ago in Grants Pass. We’re happy to be involved with the event again this year, and we’re looking forward to introducing the winner to you on the JPR airwaves this summer.
The quality at this year’s competition has been quite high, and it speaks loudly to the overall level of musicianship to be found here in southern Oregon. That quality can be found nearly every night in bars and clubs and restaurants from Eugene to Red Bluff. Over the years, JPR has consistently focused our efforts on finding the best new music from near and far to share with listeners. In the 90s, when the Rhythm & News Service was in its early years, local/regional artists were often at a significant disadvantage when their recordings were reviewed and compared to those that came from more professional/commercial sources. And often, that had little to do with talent or ability. Unfortunately, subpar recording quality often submarined an otherwise good album’s chances for airplay. As technology has advanced at breakneck speed, that gap has closed significantly between what can be done at home and what requires a professional studio. But that said, there’s still no substitute for talent.
That’s where our challenge lies as a radio station dedicated to exploring new and exciting music. In 2013, we received nearly 7,000 recordings for review (that number doesn’t include the additional thousand or so that were available only via digital distribution/download.) During the process of reviewing music for potential airplay, we’re looking for things like quality in songcraft, quality of performance, recording quality, uniqueness, and an intangible criteria that can perhaps best be defined as “fit.” Also, since we are a regional radio network with listeners all over southern Oregon and northern California, the idea of a “local” artist is only somewhat relevant — a musician in Roseburg isn’t exactly a local artist to a listener in Redding, for example. Therefore, all submissions from the region are held to the same standard as every other, each competing for rare available airtime. In the event that all qualities are roughly equal (and this scenario actually happens often) — we’ll generally give the nod to an artist with geographic roots nearby. Of those six-plus thousand recordings, we added fewer than a thousand. About one in 7 or so made the cut. And though very difficult to track with accuracy, I’d venture a guess that the submissions from regional artists found roughly the same success rate.
From more established artists like Karen Lovely, Craig Chaquico, Alice DiMicele and Gypsy Soul to newer artists and groups like Z.Z. Ward, Eight Dollar Mountain, Wesley Jensen, and Patchy Sanders, there is real musical talent to be found in this area. There’s gold in them there hills. And we’ll keep digging.
When he isn’t on-air, or locked in the ‘Zippy Room’ making sure our programming schedule stays on track, Program Director, Music Director, and Open Air host Eric Teel can be found with his headphones on poring through stacks (and stacks) of CDs, looking for gold.