Leaving it all on Stage

January 1, 2009

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Archived Story
Leaving it all on stage: Missoula country acts perform well, but fail to advance at regional contest
By JOE NICKELL of the Missoulian

Shane Clouse and Stomping Ground were the final act to compete at the Colgate Country Showdown regional competition at the Stockmen's Casino in Elko, Nev. The band, who won the state title this summer, finished in third place Saturday night.

Elko, Nev. - It was a strong showing for Missoula-based country acts in the west regional round of the Colgate Country Showdown on Saturday, as two local acts placed third and seventh in the semifinal competition.

But neither Missoula band Shane Clouse and Stomping Ground nor local singer/songwriter/guitarist Kris Schallock will advance to the national finals in Nashville, Tenn. Phoenix, Ariz.,-based singer Michelle Rene bested all other contenders at Saturday's event. A total of seven musical acts from California, Idaho, Arizona and Montana competed in Saturday's semifinal round, which was held at the Stockmen's Casino in Elko, Nev.

Moulton Jess, a band out of Idaho Falls, Idaho, took second place. Shane Clouse and Stomping Ground took third.

The margin of victory for Rene was extremely tight, and after the competition, several judges said it was nearly a toss-up among the top three contenders.

"I think (Rene) will go further in the business; but if I was to book an act in my venue, I'd book one of the two bands (Moulton Jess or Shane Clouse and Stomping Ground)," said judge George Goddard.

"We left it all on the stage," said Clouse after the conclusion of the competition. "There are other ways to get where we want to go. And you've got to be able to show you can take your lumps and show what you can do after you lose."

"It was pretty awesome to get this far," said Schallock, who placed seventh. "This gave me a little credibility, so we'll see where it leads me."

No Montana act has ever won top prize in the 24-year-old contest.

Shane Clouse and Stomping Ground qualified to compete in the Elko regional after winning a local competition sponsored by KYSS-FM at the Rustic Hut in Florence last April. More than 400 radio stations around the country sponsor first-round competitions, and more than 1,000 acts typically sign up to compete each year.

Clouse and Stomping Ground then competed in the state finals of the Country Showdown, held at the Montana State Fair in Great Falls on July 30. They won that competition as well, earning a grand prize of $1,000 and a chance to compete in Elko this past weekend.

Schallock advanced to the regional final through a more circuitous route. After missing the deadline to enter the Montana contest, Schallock entered and won a local-level contest in Sandpoint, Idaho, on Aug. 27. Idaho sends its local winners to three different state finals, in Oregon, Nevada and Washington. Schallock ended up competing in the Oregon state finals, in Lincoln City, Ore., on Sept. 11. Once again, he placed first, sending him on to the regional Showdown in Elko. (Both of the other Idaho acts to compete in state finals also advanced to the regional, making Idaho the most-represented state in the semifinal round.)

Schallock's run to the regional round of the contest surprised no one more than himself. A relatively inexperienced performer who has never headlined a public concert, Schallock says his success in the first two rounds of the competition has given him a new level of confidence about his musicianship.

"It's pretty flattering to think people could appreciate my music at this level," said Schallock in an interview prior to Saturday's event. "People appreciating what I do has definitely already given me a confidence booster."

Schallock performed two original songs in Saturday's contest: "If This," a song about unselfish love; and "Little More Country," about growing up in Polson.

The 23-year-old musician got his first musical experience singing in church, and began playing guitar when he was in sixth grade. After graduating from Polson High School, Schallock moved to Missoula in 2001 to attend the University of Montana, and has called the Garden City his home ever since.

Although his only public performing experience has been at open-mic events and church functions, Schallock plays and writes music avidly. He is currently studying to become an emergency medical technician.

Schallock says he isn't sure whether he'll enter the contest again in the future.

"If I feel like that's something I'm led to do, I'll do it," said Schallock. "I'll mainly just continue to play for friends and family, which is what I really love to do."

For their part, Shane Clouse and the members of Stomping Ground were pleased at having advanced to the regional round of the contest, but they say they won't enter the contest again.

"I think it served its purpose for us," said Clouse. "It really helped put us on the map. I'm bummed because everybody hates to lose; but I've lost before, and I think it's what you do next that shows your mettle."

The band intends to now focus its efforts on recording a new CD, and to continue polishing its live show.

"We put on a great show at the Old Post (in Missoula), and we'll put on a great show someday at Texas Stadium," said Clouse. "This doesn't change things for us in that regard."

Despite their ambitions, it is unlikely that Clouse and his bandmates will soon be leaving Missoula to make their way in the country music business. Clouse manages the Pink Grizzly, a garden supply store owned by his family and located on Russell Street. Bassist Zach Millar works as a distribution coordinator at Big Sky Brewing Company; guitarist Ryan Fadden is a self-employed carpenter; and drummer Mark Sickich works at Lithia Motors.

The band is a regular fixture at area nightclubs, and has performed opening sets at high-profile concerts by Sawyer Brown and last spring's Phil Vassar/Joe Nichols double-bill at the Adams Center. Although the band played a range of cover songs during those performances, it focuses primarily on writing and performing original music in the so-called "Outlaw Country" vein.

Clouse and Stomping Ground performed one original song in Saturday's contest, titled "Ain't Never Been to New Orleans." Clouse noted that the song, which he wrote years ago while living in Los Angeles, gained extra poignancy for him in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The band rounded out its two-song performance with the classic "Auctioneer's Song." They performed that song, along with the original "25 Beers and a Handful of Steering Wheel," in the Montana Country Showdown.

Performers in the Country Showdown are judged on a 50- point scale, with separate scores given for marketability in country music, vocal/instrumental ability, originality, stage presence and charisma, and talent. Up to three bonus points are given for performing original music.

Despite the results of the contest, Missoula's local musicians were upbeat on Saturday night.

"I'm not gonna think about the loss any more tonight," said Stomping Ground drummer Mark Sickich. "I have 12 hours to think about it tomorrow, driving back to Missoula."