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Patching up the music scene

Musicians piece together a collaborative concert

Alli Inglebright

A band performs at the Patchwork Project competition.

November 8, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Dave Kemper knows about deadlines. When his band MoonRunner booked its first show at The Blue Note in 2010, he hadn’t written a single song. Kemper spent six weeks carefully writing material until the band was ready.

Now he’s applying the inspiration-by-fire strategy to jumpstart Columbia’s music scene. Kemper and Roxy’s owner, Jesse Garcia, kicked off the Patchwork Project, a battle-of-the-bands style competition with a twist. Complete strangers are grouped together to create new material and perform in front of an audience. The challenge has church music directors working with classic rockers and hip-hop keyboardists jamming with jazz drummers.

Guitarist Bryan Degase had his initial doubts about the project. “I thought it could go really well, or it could go downhill really fast,” he says. “But it’s looking like it’s working out pretty well.” In Degase’s group, Well Hidden Wolf, even the guitarists come from different backgrounds. Degase is most familiar with classic rock and jazz while the other guitarist plays mostly country and blues. The result is a psychedelic crescendo of guitar grooves that received a positive response from the crowd at the Patchwork show.

By the Numbers

6 weeks
5 original songs
25 musicians
1 Beatles cover

Guitarist Nate White of Blue Amberol describes writing with four random people as “kind of this ‘first date’ excitement.” But luckily, the sparks flew. At the competition, Blue Amberol put on a clinic of high energy, guitar-shredding rock and roll. By the end of their set, the venue was awake and screaming.

That’s exactly what Kemper and Garcia wanted from the Patchwork Project — to enliven Columbia with fresh music. The local scene is bursting with bands, but Kemper and Garcia see a lot of unfulfilled potential these days. “Anybody who’s in the music business around here will tell you it’s been dead,” Garcia says. “It’s dreadfully hard to find local bands that aren’t lazy, that work hard to put their feet in the door.” Degase, for example, moved to Columbia two years ago to play music but hasn’t found a band to match his ambition.

“A band isn’t just four or five people that play some music sometimes,” Garcia says. For that reason, the Patchwork Project also gauged promotional ability. Garcia and Kemper decided the order of the bands’ performance schedules on Nov. 2 by how many people were listed as “attending” on the bands’ Facebook event pages.

For Kemper, who co-founded the Academy of Rock at Hickman High School and manages the Columbia Music Scene Facebook page, the Project is about building a buzzing music community as much as it is about starting new acts.

“I want it to be like Seattle in 1990, or Austin, Texas; or Portland today,” he says. “I want people to say, ‘Columbia, Mo., that’s a music scene. Go there and watch shows.’”

Although it was less grungy than Seattle in the ’90s, Roxy’s sure looked like a scene on the night of the show. A couple of awkward technical difficulties occurred early on as well as some obvious mistakes, but it was hard to tell that none of the five acts had been together for long.

At the end of the night, White and the rest of Blue Amberol ended up taking the $500 first prize, with Well Hidden Wolf taking second. Blue Amberol is set to play another show called “Locals Only” at Roxy’s on Nov. 30. From here on out, they’re faced with the long grind of a new band trying to establish itself. But the Patchwork Project was at least the start of something.

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