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Build A Band, Win A Fest

Updated: Mar 19

Before my brother opened his shop, there was only one retail music store in Norwalk, Ohio. My Martin had come from Mossman Music, and we'd been buying strings there for years. Come to think of it, that's what brought me there on that particular day.

Just inside the door, there was a box with a handful of cassettes in it, and the words "Ohio Music Fest" written in red Sharpie on the front. After some lengthy interrogation, the guy behind the counter told me that there'd be a multi-genre contest with $1000 prize for the winner.

I went to my mom's house and made a cassette copy of some Nashville demos. These tracks were from Midtown Tone and Volume, and featured some of the best session players on Music Row. I knew the tape would secure a spot in the contest, now all I had to do was build a band that could play it live. James was already in Ohio, so of course he'd play drums. Williams would come up from Nashville to cover lead guitar, bringing along a bassist named Arville Connelly (with a killer vocal harmony) to round it all out. Four guys splitting a grand seemed pretty solid to everyone, and with no guarantee we'd win, we met in Norwalk a day before the festival for a single practice.

The day of the competition, I rode to Mansfield with Predovic. He had brought his Trans-Am up from Springfield, Tennessee, and I knew we'd smoke the whole way there. Some of the heaviest window tint I've ever seen. The boys brought the gear separately, and they beat us there by an hour. Smoke and central Ohio back roads are never the most direct route anywhere. When we pulled up and opened the doors, smoke rolled out like someone was choosing a new pope. And right there in the middle of it was a guy that looked like the first-string quarterback for the Alpha Betas (Revenge Of the Nerds), walking with the confidence of a Greek God. That's how I met Doug High.

Doug was working in marketing and advertising for a local radio station out of Ashland, Ohio, and he had been given emcee duties for this music festival. His chiseled good looks and perfect enunciation would see him host several beauty pageants and big events over the coming years, though I think that particular fest was one of his first emcee roles. It was tremendous luck, to meet the guy when I did. We were both young and hungry, and our skill sets were polar opposites, which made us a good team immediately.

That day, though, we were strangers. And I think he was stunned and more than a little intrigued by our Rock and Roll ways. I remember him bringing a newspaper reporter to the Trans-Am for a quick interview, with smoke still billowing from the slightly cracked, tinted windows. We were decades ahead of our time. Doug let us know that we'd be on in five minutes, and I tuned the Martin and pounded the last of my coffee. We took the stage to play a thirty minute set, consisting of originals and a George Strait cover (for Arville to sing lead on). The Fireman was his go-to song, and he always killed it. I don't remember which of my tunes we played that day, but we played them well enough to win the contest. We all gave our social security numbers to the people in charge, and they handed me a check for a thousand dollars.

About a month later, my mother started getting invoices in the mail from that Norwalk music store. They were always for $200 and some 20% booking fee. Turns out the owner thought he deserved a fee because I'd dropped off the cassette at his store. He took me to court, and I brought in Doug High as a witness. I won that day in court, but not before the music store owner threatened to beat me with a baseball bat. To this day, that guy despises me. It didn't help when my brother opened Castle Music just across town from him and became his only local competitor for the next two decades.

I remained friends with Doug High for the rest of my life, and played a lot of music with his wife, Lyssa over the years. They now co-host the midday show for ABC Lexington, and Doug is still the greatest All-American boy to ever make good. And we might've never met, had I not built a band for a one day music festival.

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