By Andrew Ellis, Editor-in-Chief
The musicians were ready. All 46 of them eager to jump on stage with their one-night-only bands, and show everyone what they came up with for the 1st Annual Midwest Country Mix-Up. The rules for the song choices were simple: two 80s songs from any genre and one country song from any year. And no two bands could play the same song.
The highlights were many and the energy was nonstop as the Rowdy Cowboy Show provided music in between band changes. There wasn’t anyone not having fun.
As for the bands, they all went all out in their own way. But they all dressed up, and it was all there: hair metal wigs, overalls, a Carebear onesie, and more. One person even played without pants.
Wolf Pacifier kicked it off. Lead by Joleen Lamers (The Farmer’s Daughters) and Mike Villalva (Up South), one of the most memorable parts of their set was their rendition of the Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood duet “Squeeze Me In.” The Chillbilly Bandits, lead by Shalo Lee and Jake Nelson, got one of the most audible cheers from the crowd as they began the first few chords of George Strait’s “All My Exes.”
Borderline, lead by Lindsey Jo (The Farmer’s Daughters) and Shane Martin, shook things up by playing their country song “Think of You” by Chris Young and Cassadee Pope first. They got one of the biggest moments of the night when they wore hair metal wigs for Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Martin’s wig very closely resembled Dee Snider’s from back in the day.
Serious Moonlight, lead by Brandon Backstrom (Brandon and Erica) and Bettina Villamil (Shalo Lee Band), had some really cool moments that started when violin extraordinaire Villamil jumped down to the dance floor to start off “Callin’ Baton Rouge.” Then they brought some out early John Mellencamp with “Cherry Bomb,” and capped it off with a funky dose of David Bowie on “Let’s Dance.”
Erica Hanson and Noah Alexander (the Carebear onesie guy) lead the Gal Pals and 1 Night Stand Band through Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That,” and The Bangles’ “Hazy Shade of Winter,” and even got some lead singing help from Dayna Koehn. In the middle of the set Alexander brought it down past the Mason-Dixon line for Travis Tritt’s “Put Some Drive In Your Country.”
Bob Knight and the Rooks, lead by Devon Worley and Anderson Daniels, got real 80s with it on “Tainted Love.” Appropriately, Worley was also dressed as Stevie Nicks for “Edge of 17.” But one of the biggest surprises came when they launched into “Whiskey Burns,” an original by fellow Midwest CMA member Jake Nelson.
Fronted by Mark Stone and Erin Grand, the Midwest Wranglers started out with “Almost Paradise,” a duet from Footloose. Grand especially shined with a full band behind her. Then she sang “Jolene” like she wrote it, and Stone turned into Prince with “Kiss.”
Topping of the night was Pitchforks ‘N A Hoe. Fronted by Cindy Jo (Dirt Road Dixie) and Chris Thorsen, they turned up the synthesizer with A-Ha’s“Take on Me,” and gave us some anthemic twang with “Setting the World on Fire.” Then they capped it off with “Livin’ On A Prayer.”
Borderline took home the top prize, and runner up and third place went to Pitchforks ‘N A Hoe and Bob Knight and the Rooks, respectively. The standout awards went to Jake Nelson, Adam Durand, Bettina Villamil, Corey White, and Zach Sershon.
It was night no one will forget and many are still riding high from. Local musicians were able to to hang and collaborate like never before, and many new friendships were forged. The picture of all the musicians gathered together onstage as the winners were announced was the perfect symbolism for what the Midwest Country Music Association is all about. And the music is very much alive and well.
Cover Photo Credit: Creative Jam, inc.