The first installment of the Square Room’s Sound Off competition on Wednesday, Oct. 7, played out like a sports movie, or one of those movies about an inspirational music teacher at an inner-city school. The students from the wrong side of the tracks in this case were country-rock band Taylor Brown and Company, who overcame their alternate status with an energetic set—including a cover of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”—to win over the crowd and the judges. The band had finished just outside the top 25 during the first round of cuts a few weeks ago; they were added to the first-round bill at the last minute when the Butcher Brothers were unable to make the show.
“I found out on Friday at 2:30 or 3 o’clock,” says frontman Taylor Brown. Brown usually performs as a duo with multi-instrumentalist Bill Wolf. He quickly recruited a full band consisting of guitarist Chris Dorsten, bassist Christian Dasilva, and drummer Terry Mahnken and got them together for a single rehearsal over the weekend. Only Wolf appeared on Brown’s CD Coal Road Sunset, released earlier this year.
“I went in thinking, ‘We’ve lost,’” Brown says. “I figured we’d go in and play a free show and as long as we were there get to enjoy whoever won.... Every single band there was phenomenal. And they made it in, and I didn’t.”
Brown and Co. beat out Kevin Hyfantis and the Bishops Band, the Black Cadillacs, the Basement Lights, and Scott McMahan. Contestants were judged on musical performance and songwriting—each act played two original songs and a Beatles cover—and another 40 percent of the total score came from the audience response, as measured by the club’s sound board. (A few Black Cadillacs fans disagreed, vocally and with middle fingers, with the results when they were announced.)
The Butcher Brothers, who were unable to make the show because of a communication error, have been added as alternates.
The second semifinal round is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 4, with performances by the Enigmatic Foe, Kamuy, Madre, Seeing Skies, and Vinyl Thief. The final round, with each of the five winners from the semifinal rounds, will be held in March. The winner will receive studio time at Rock Snob Recording, packaging for an EP, a release party at the Square Room, and a spot on next year’s Sundown in the City.