I went to this Virgin/Capitol records gig that my partner Rex was putting on last night at the Rev Room, and had a fabulous pre-dinner next door with his wife Jane. We sat down in these furry white chairs to enjoy the show - one of the acts was a 15 year old from Fayetteville and Jane and I were surrounded by her grandma and friends from Clarksville. Grandma had this wonderful guttural Southern accent and described how her mother's musical talent was re-born into her grand daughter - it was evident to the whole family by the age of 2. I asked her about her accent and she proudly replied, "I came over from Germany. When I was little."
So it turns out that Rex is the king of this show, and was chiefly responsible for scouting out the four acts that were auditioning in front of a big exec from Nashville. The acts were all very different - an alternative band, a reggae band (Rex did an amazing keyboard accompaniment on one of their songs), a country singer (Amanda - the 15 year old), and a 16 year old R&B singer/songwriter - Jasmine. I was confused about how this all came about, so I quizzed Jane over the din of the music.
She told me, "They did the Great Arkansas Talent Search, the first one, last year. It has five rounds. The go all over the state to churches and schools. The charge a small entry fee, and donate half back to the church or school. If they like the singing/songwriting, they bring them to the studio to make albums. They are already in the first rounds of 2010, and these acts are the highlights of 2009."
When I walked in earlier and found Rex, he introduced me to Amanda's mom. "This is the mother of the next big country and western superstar. She's going to be really big. Her songwriting is amazing."
I briefly met the slight girl, who was pale and thin, with a ghostly youthful beauty. Unfortunately it was a little loud and crowded so I didn't really get the words to some of the songs, but she was impressive. All the acts were. And they all thanked Rex over the mic for his support.
This morning, Rex came into my office. His studio, I learned from Jane last night, is called Infrared Records. I thought I knew he had a studio, because he recorded some of his jazz piano, but had no idea he was using it to develop local talent. I also remember hearing he has some crazy number of pianos - like 20 or 30 - stored in a warehouse. And that he and his pathologist wife give a lot of $$ to support the local music scene. I said, "You are like the Simon Cowell of Arkansas. Only better, because you are going for songwriting talent and not just singing talent (or mass appeal minus talent). He replied, "Virgin Records loved Amanda. He said the rest of the acts needed a little more work. We are in line to finish her album in the next couple of months - then she is going there to meet the executives and more songwriters, to help her develop her raw talent." He seemed highly pleased with himself, as he should be.
Well, I'm not out scouting talent and mixing and mingling with record bigwigs, but I did swim a mile tonight! I was so happy, cause that 1/2 mile was really rough, and I didn't know if I could do it. But I hit something I remember from last summer - this little endorphin high where I felt like I was gliding above the water. Sure, to the rest of the world (I was especially paranoid cause Sicily's swim coach was there coaching another team), I probably looked like I was struggling, but I felt IT. There's more out there.