After nearly five hours of acoustic singer-songwriter performances, there were just two acts left standing at the Eddie’s Attic Bi-annual Open Mic Shootout: Chelsea Lynn LaBate and The Honey Dewdrops.
As one of seven judges for Friday night’s songwriting competition, I’d love to write you a tale of competition and suspense, but this was kind of a quintessential Decatur night: acoustic music, smoke-free food and drink, black curtains and holiday lights, unfailingly polite, appreciative applause. Eddie’s Attic is like the public radio of music venues. It’s fun, smart and ends with hug, but any adrenaline belongs to those behind the microphones.
Each of the 23 acts has a remarkable talent, whether for writing songs, singing them, playing or performing them. That’s what got them through the Monday Open Mic competition and onto the Shootout stage. What changes this competition is strategy: do you play your very best material in the first round and hope for a good first impression? Fast or slow? Safe or surprising? Please the critics or the audience? Do you independently decide your strongest material, or change it once you’ve heard your competitors?
The bracket is based on the wisdom of names pulled from a hat, which almost guarantees that less-developed artists will make it into later rounds, while a matchup between two seasoned regulars will knock one out immediately. Judges weighed the song, vocal, instrumental performance, stage presence and that spark of something else that makes you want to hear another song.
In a word? Hard.
We heard a lot of talented guys who sound too much like John Mayer, a lot of fantastic women whose lyrics abuse the word “heart.” We saw guitars, pianos, violins, a banjo, ukulele, cello, human beatbox and all varieties of portable percussion. Some acts coordinated outfits, some put on a show just short of comedy, some never made eye contact with the audience.
But it’s as perfect a system you can get for an imperfect songwriting competition: the winner walks away encouraged and $1,000 richer. Those that exit early have gotten a good meal, practice, exposure and a few hearty rounds of applause. Nothing about this contest predicts the length or health of a career, and everyone knows it.
Out of 44 performances and 22 decisions, I voted with the majority 17 times, and I’d be grateful to give up space on my overflowing iPod for the two finalists. The Honey Dewdrops wrote intimate songs that dodged musical and lyrical cliches. Chelsea Lynn LaBate’s performances were smart, relevant and surprising. She smiled the whole night, which only made her sound more like a mischievous, slightly Southern Regina Spektor. For that last round, I was happy told hold up a sign with her number on it.
And what now? Well, there’s another Monday coming up.
Want to go? Eddie’s Attic Songwriters Open Mic. 7 p.m. every Monday. $5-$25. Eddie’s Attic, 515-B N. McDonough St., Decatur. 404-377-4976, www.eddiesattic.com.
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