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Jeff Miers

Judge not, lest ye be judged: Battle for the Borderland recap

Nearly everyone who finds themselves involved in a race for the prize says, “It’s an honor just to be nominated,” and of course, it is. That said, most people would probably concur it’s an even bigger honor to win.

I’ve gone on the record repeatedly – some might even say ad nauseam – regarding my feelings about talent contests, particularly of the televised, "presided over by a panel of smarty-pants music industry types" variety. I think they send the wrong message, that they suggest there is some sort of shortcut to success, that the art of music-making can be equated to an athletic performance or a list of postgame stats. I haven’t met too many people who agree with this assessment, but I’m sticking with it.

As a result, I had some trepidation going into the joint venture between The Buffalo News, the folks behind the Borderland Music + Arts Festival and 97 Rock, that would ultimately combine fan votes and the opinions of a panel of judges to whittle down the abundant entries to one sole winner, who’d then be awarded a slot on this year’s Borderland bill. (The festival is Sept. 21 and 22 at Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora.) By the time we – myself and Jennifer Brazil of Borderland – broke down the entries into a top 10 list, it was obvious everyone was deserving, that any of these artists would likely kill it on the Borderland stage.

An eager public broke down that top 10 list to a final three via digital vote, all of whom would proceed to the final, "in-concert" round. I was a bit surprised the voting followed – fairly closely – the general outline of the Borderland festival itself. All three of our finalists fell into the general Roots/Americana genre, even though our entrants ranged in style from funk to indie rock to country and back. But you’d made your opinions clear, and it was hard to argue that Uncle Ben’s Remedy, Two Hills Reloaded and the Greg Klyma Band were anything less than wholly worthy of the honor.

Each band was granted its own slot at a club, and with it, the opportunity gather fans, friends, followers and family together, in the hopes of turning their gig into an event. As it turns out, all three bands did just that.

The decision – due Monday, Sept. 9 – will not be an easy one for the four judges (myself, Brazil, 97 Rock’s Bull and Buffalo Iron Works director/Cobblestone Live co-founder Josh Holtzman). All three bands killed on their given night, and all three offered festival-level shows. Here’s how it all went down.

Battle for the Borderland judges, from left: Josh Holtzman, Jennifer Brazil, Bull, Jeff Miers.

Two Hills Reloaded

Sportsmen’s Tavern, Aug. 18

A band with a history that goes back to the late '70s, this ensemble wowed us with a stellar set of high-spirited originals and a couple of well-chosen covers – their version of CSN’s “Teach Your Children Well” turned into a heartfelt Sportsmen’s-wide sing-along – all of them bolstered by serious musicianship and stellar multi-part vocal harmonies.  The crowd – many of whom have been following the band for decades – responded with enthusiasm. A beautifully seasoned set of rock-country-folk hybrids.

Two Hills Reloaded at the Sportsmen's Tavern. (Photo by Jeff Miers)

The Greg Klyma Band

42 North Brewing Company, Aug. 21

The ceaselessly travelling road warrior Klyma came home with a killer band in tow – fiddle/mandolin/guitar player and harmony vocalist Eric Lee, bassist and harmony vocalist Ed Croft and drummer Ray Hangen – and performed a smartly curated tour through his discography at 42 North in East Aurora. An affable and skilled raconteur and a singer-songwriter of consummate skill, Klyma had the crowd singing along to lovable folk-rockers like “Living the Life” and displayed his ability to move gracefully between ruminative story-songs (“Kristofferson,” “Bobby Charles on the Jukebox”) and giddy rockers (“Ex-Girlfriends Cost Less Money Than Ex-Wives”).

The Greg Klyma Band during their Battle for the Borderland performance at 42 North. (Photo by Jeff Miers)

Uncle Ben’s Remedy

Buffalo Iron Works, Aug. 28

When I stepped onto the stage to introduce these guys, I could feel the electricity in the air. Uncle Ben’s Remedy fans don’t mess around. They were out in full force, many of them proudly sporting band merch, and all of them more than convinced that their boys belonged on the Borderland stage. The group’s country-folk-rock hybrid is powered by a populist songwriting acumen and an all-out, high-energy stage performance. Their fans knew the songs well, too, and they made sure everyone knew as much, by singing along at the top of their lungs. Over at the judge’s table, many a chuckle was shared over the band’s gloriously irreverent anti-modern country poser anthem “All Hat, No Cattle,” and an encore mash-up of Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” and AC/DC’s “TNT.”

Uncle Ben's Remedy at Buffalo Iron Works. (Photo by Jeff Miers)

We judges have a tough task ahead of us. Tune in to the Morning Bull show on 97 Rock the morning of Monday, Sept. 9 to hear how we tackled that task.

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