>>Being an attendee at a live concert can be an unpredictable and unfavorable experience for concert goers and musicians alike sometimes. From unplanned cancellations, sketchy ticket companies, unprofessional venue owners, sound issues, equipment failure, and belligerent crowds there is an element of Murphy’s Law associated with the show business that is nonnegotiable.
After attending a less than favorable show at a loud bar during South by Southwest in 2008, National Public Radio producers Stephen Thompson and Bob Boilen joked to the performer, Laura Gibson, that playing the NPR office would be a better environment. Sure enough, three weeks later, Gibson performed at the NPR Office in Washington, DC which they recorded and posted online. 12 years later and the Tiny Desk Concert series has become a staple must-do live performance for nearly every genre. Artists varying from pop superstars Taylor Swift and the Jonas Brothers to hip-hop artists Anderson .Paak and Lizzo, to rock acts like Paramore and Jimmy Eat World, and everything in between, have performed intimate stripped down sets in the NPR offices that garner millions of views on YouTube. The videos have elements of vulnerable poetic raw humanity that is often lost in the brash world of live entertainment. Artists have used it to promote new material, reimagine their own discography, cover songs they love, and even engage in dialogue with the small audience.
In 2014 NPR decided to host a contest where any artist could perform an original song, post it online for submission, and the selected winner would play a Tiny Desk Concert at the Nation’s Capital. The jurors, who consist of NPR staff and various musicians, grade the performances on musical quality/appeal, originality, and stage presence/charisma. The contest draws thousands of submissions annually and allows artists to show off their performance chops. The submission videos themselves have grown viral in their own right. Hobo Johnson and the Lovemakers 2018 submission video has over 18 million views on YouTube and made him an overnight internet sensation. With the chance to be seen on a national level, various performers from the Rochester area submit every year, and given our eclectic and gifted music scene you know they are just online sensations waiting to be discovered. Below are five local entries from this year’s contest that we love and think you should check out.
Local soul artist, Danielle Ponder’s submission for “Poor Man’s Pain” has already gained the attention of the NPR staff and is shot by Floated’s Own Krit Upra. Ponder gives a breath-taking vocal performance that touches on her experience as a public defender and the story of Willie Simmons, who is currently serving a life sentence for stealing $9 over thirty years ago in Alabama. The lyrics touch on the desire for freedom in a country rife with racial legal injustice. The performance is a plea for understanding as it ends in Ponder powerfully belting how “I’m a man just like you”. It is impossible to watch this video and feel no emotion, especially in these politically turbulent times.
Hip-hop artist, Redbeard Samurai’s submission for “Rain Fall Down” finds him performing guitar and vocals with the JB Dojo, who lay down smooth instrumentals and backing vocals. The video has already gained an impressive number of viewers and finds Samurai harmonizing about lost love and finding himself most comfortable in a low state. The track feels exactly like a rainstorm that brings up wistful nostalgic moods.
Public Prism’s submission of “Tremble” is our only artist performing on their own in this list and finds Rob Massar singing over a distorted fuzzy guitar. The song brings up an early grunge and shoegaze vibe to me. Around the 2:11 mark the music stops and finds Massar changing the groove which keeps the listener engaged. Public Prism is releasing a new EP this Friday so be sure to check it out if you enjoy the video.
Siena’s submission of “Meteor” finds Facciolo performing a touching ballad on the piano. The song gradually progresses with intensity through the addition of drums by Chris Palace. Facciolo offers a commanding energy that declares determination against apocalypse, reassuring “there are songs yet to be sung”. Siena has played multiple livestreams throughout the lockdown so be sure to look up her page if you are interested in more enthralling performances.
Although BRAHIM! is from Brooklyn, New York their submission of “Mystic Man” finds the Soul/R&B 8-piece outfit completely in their bag. They were luckily all able to record this before the lockdown and the song finds them harmonizing as well as laying down a solid hopeful verse later in the track which is my personal favorite part. They’ve released 4 new singles throughout the year so be sure to check those out if you enjoy the video. Cheers and good luck to everyone who has entered the contest!