The fifth season of Huske Unplugged starts on Sept. 4, and if the past four seasons are any indication of the talent that is likely to participate, Fayetteville is in for a treat. While there are several venues for musicians to perform locally, Huske Unplugged is a platform for songwriters (many of whom also happen to be performers). Last season ended with a bang as both local and national sponsors awarded prizes worth more than $20,000.
Huske Hardware House owner Josh Collins has been a strong supporter of the event since its inception when he offered $2,000 of his own money as the prize. Last season, PCG Nashville, an agency that helps professionally develop artists of all genres awarded a $15,000 scholarship to their program, Reed Lallier Chevrolet offered $3,000 or a one-year car lease and Manifold Recording offered free recording time. Through the entire season the audience was treated to a variety of music by songwriters with varying levels of experience and expertise. In the end, Autumn Nicholas won the scholarship category and Ethan Hanson won the cash award category - and truly the biggest winners were the people who came out week after week to encourage and listen to the songwriters.
Sponsors are stepping up to support the participants. Mike Tiemann of Manifold Recording has confirmed that they will once again be a sponsor for Huske Unplugged Singer/Songwriter Night. The songwriter awarded best overall performance will receive a day of free recording at the state-of-the-art facility in Pittsboro. There will also be cash prizes each week and at the conclusion of the season.
As in previous seasons, there are eight weeks of preliminaries. Wednesday nights at 7 p.m., the sign-up sheet goes out. Performances start at 8 p.m. There are 12 available slots each week. The winner walks away with a cash prize and a spot in the semi-finals. Songwriters should come prepared to perform two to three songs, one of which can be a cover song.
"Songwriters come to this with different levels of experience," said Greg Biltz, cohost and cofounder of the event. "Sometimes one song is all they've written, and we still want to give them a chance to be heard."
There are two weeks of semi-finals leading up to the big night on Nov. 20. Throughout the competition Biltz has made sure that the event remains focused on the songwriters and the work they put into their compositions.
"This is not American Idol Fayetteville," said Biltz. "This showcase is about songwriters. Not every songwriter is a natural performer, and we want to keep this about content. We've had some amazing talent come out in the past four seasons and I hope to see some familiar faces, along with plenty of new faces, this time around."
In the past four seasons combined, 96 songwriters have participated. Only one, Nicholas, has won both the cash prize category and the scholarship category. That means there is a chance that the audience will get to see some of their favorites come out again since winners are only able to win each category once, at the current time.
An advocate for local musicians, Biltz is impressed with the talent in the area and has been blown away time and again with the many musical acts and what they have to offer.
"Our very fist winner, Nathan Fair, opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd at Sturgis this year," said Biltz. "He said they asked him to come back next year, too."
Nicholas has been to Nashville as part of winning the scholarship category last season. "I went to Nashville to watch Autumn. It was her first appearance as a PCG Nashville client," said Biltz. "She blew everyone away."
While Ethan Hanson won last season in the cash award category, the execs from PCG Nashville were reaching out to him, too, on the night of the finals. While there were several top-notch performers at the finals in April, Biltz called Hanson's victory a well-deserved win. "There were some people that I thought had a good chance, but then Ethan came in and just ate everybody's lunch," he said.
Casey Cotton competed last season and has put together a group that is building quite a following around town.
"Casey is the best keyboard player I have seen in 30 years. He is a showman," said Biltz. "He puts on a good show and he knows how to connect with the audience. His music is upbeat and hard to describe. They do some fairly well-known pieces, but the way they put it together is different and fresh."
Mitch Clark is another crowd-pleaser that Biltz hopes to see at Huske Unplugged. "He has been a finalist in all four events and he is coming along phenomenally as well," said Biltz. "He is really developing as a songwriter. In 2011, he had never written a song before and he came in third place."
With so many talented writers and performers it's hard to tell who may or may not show, but Biltz is excited to see what this season brings.
"I've said from the beginning, and I tell everybody who shows up to play that this isn't about the money or winning a prize," said Biltz. "It's about an opportunity to have your original work heard. It is a chance to play your own songs in front of people who are interested in hearing them. Shoot, if I weren't hosting I'd be up there every week just to get my material heard."
Huske Hardware House owners Josh and Tonia Collins have been supporters of local musicians for years. In fact, their daughter, Summer Collins, has graced the stage at Huske Hardware, Festival Park and other local venues since she was in middle school. Thanks to her family's support and her talent and hard work, Summer is yet another success story in the Fayetteville music scene.
"I am finally heading west to Nashville, Tenn., to attend Belmont University as a commercial music major," she said. "I will be working with masters of the industry and surrounded by inspiration. I am anxious to dive into the Music City culture and driven to make Fayetteville proud."
Season five of Huske Unplugged starts, Wednesday, Sept. 4 at Huske Hardware House. Check the Huske Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/HuskeHardware for more information.