A Major Platform for Local Talent

first_imgTo be successful in the music world, it definitely takes talent. But getting audiences to recognize that talent is another factor, one that takes a special combination of luck and knowhow, and using whatever tools a musician has at hand.For local country music upstarts, the Majestic Valley Arena Country Showdown, presented by The Bear 106.3, offers a chance to show hundreds of valley residents the depth of talent living in the Flathead.The 32nd annual Country Showdown offers local singers and songwriters the chance to work and win their way to the big time, with local talent showcases leading to a state showdown, then the regional finals competition, which leads to the televised national finals.The overall winner receives the title “Best New Act in Country Music” and $100,000.From April 6 through April 22, online voters can cast their clicks for the top 25 contestants from Western Montana. The top 15 acts chosen by voters will be announced on April 24, and those acts will perform at the showdown showcase on May 1 and 2.Several of those acts were from the Flathead, including relative newcomers Dean & Riley, a country-folk duo made up of Whitefish resident Kyle Dean and Amelia Riley Thornton, who grew up in Kalispell and now lives in Missoula.Before forming their group, the two musicians had only played together a handful of times, having met while working at the Laughing Horse Lodge on Swan Lake. Thornton, who holds a master’s degree in violin performance, would play for diners while also working as a server, catching Dean’s ear as he worked as a chef.“We met just completely on chance, I (was) a chef at a lodge in the Swan Valley, and she was waiting tables that summer. She was always bringing in her violin,” Dean said. “I thought it would be cool to play with her someday.”The duo only played music together once that summer, and Thornton moved away to pursue her MA degree at Ohio University. When she returned, she went to one of Dean’s shows held during one of Whitefish’s Art Walk evenings.Afterward, they decided to play again together.“We started messing around with cover songs, and he started playing his own songs,” Thornton said. “I just fell in love with his songwriting and his fingerpicking style on the guitar.”Formally joining forces last August, the duo got to work on their music and on the business side of their venture, trying to promote themselves while still building their repertoire.On April 25, Dean & Riley will perform as one of the top five finalists for the Zoo Music Awards in Missoula, and that morning will release their first single on iTunes.They also finished recording the music and vocals for their forthcoming album, which was recorded at SnowGhost Studio.As an act, Dean & Riley bring country folk and indie folk to their show, and Thornton likes to work in a wide range of violin capabilities, from classical styles to Irish fiddle.The Country Showdown is a way to get their band name out to new fans, the duo said, and a way to connect with the Flathead music scene.For Andrew Sweeney, the Country Showdown showcase is an opportune means to remind his existing fan base that he’s back on the scene. An accomplished musician, Sweeney took his foot off the gas on his music career for the past couple of years, but is now working full force again.He’s competed in the showcase three previous times, and each one was a worthwhile experience, he said.“This year, this is, for me, local exposure, which I think is why anyone should be doing it,” Sweeney said. “And that’s what’s so cool about the event, it’s the biggest venue we have in the valley.”With new agency representation and a career that has included performing in Nashville, Los Angeles, New York and recording with platinum-selling artists, Sweeney said he is ready to get back on stage.“For me, it’s definitely about the exposure and letting everybody know that, ‘hey, I’m still here,’” he said.For more information, visit www.flatheadcontest.com or www.kdbr.com. Email Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.last_img read more