Sunday, February 21, 2010

Nashville businesses battle for band honors

There's an old joke in Nashville that asks: How do you get the attention of a singer-songwriter?
The answer: Just yell, "Waiter!"

As it turns out, singer-songwriters are bankers, lawyers and computer geeks, too.

And, at a time of layoffs and salary freezes in the workplace, an unconventional way to boost morale, have fun and get the mailroom clerk singing harmony with the CEO has emerged: Put a company band together.

Do it in Nashville, and be prepared to be blown away by the level of musicianship, said Rod Essig, who books the likes of Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire and other country music elite as lead agent at Creative Artists Agency in Nashville.

For the second year, he'll be one of the judges for the Music City Corporate Band Challenge, which will hold preliminary rounds at Music Row-area bars next week. The winner, to be named during the finals on March 14, will get to perform at the CMA Music Festival this June.

"If somebody stood out, I would pursue them and a record company would pursue them," Essig said. "You're always looking for the next person to be the next big star,
wherever they come from."

Indeed, last year's winner, a band called Transit made up of Metro Transit Authority employees, ended up recording two songs produced by rocker Jack White and released them on his Third Man Records label.

"We are Music City, and we have a higher level of talent here," said Connie Valentine, CEO of the Arts and Business Council of Greater Nashville, which is sponsoring the 2-year-old contest, though she does stress the fun aspect of the band challenge over the competition.

In another corporate band contest last year, this one put on by Fortune magazine, a band from Franklin-based Healthways took top honors at the national level, beating out bands from Iowa, Utah, Mississippi and California, as well as a band from St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis.

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