It was clear that Telstra Road to Discovery Heat #7 was going to be fierce. The region had more entries than anywhere else across the country and all the musos in SE Qld were pared back to just six singer/songwriters, brandishing guitars, ready to fire their two songs at the judge.
The atmosphere surrounding the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers’ outdoor stage was super-relaxed. Gorgeous Ella Hooper MC’d a line-up that started with the competition and finished with a stellar performance by song-writing legend, Mark Seymour and his flawless four-piece band. Last year’s winner, Andrew Redford, fresh off the plane from Nashville, also played a few songs including a brand newbie and a duet with Ella that was really beautiful.
The first contestant, Indie-Pop artist, Dan Acfield, began the gig with Golden Girl, a gentle tune about his daughter, followed by an upbeat demonstration of soaring vocals and hammering guitar.
Kelsie Rimmer proved to be one of those rare performers with the power to hold an audience and magically silence the room using only a few sustained notes. She delivered a sublime cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and an honest love-song of her own.
Third contestant, Richard Grewar, who’s about 96% Rock God in the mould of Eddie Vedder, gave us THE road trip song of the day (One City). Then Jackson Smith, who appears fresh on the scene, plucked out finely-crafted guitar arrangements and wove them like Merino around his lyrical serenades.
Hannah Morrison managed to stamp down her nerves to put up a great set and as if on cue, a butterfly flew onstage during her song, Drifting in Outer Space, with its intricate, fluttering melody and sky-bound lyrics.
Finally, Simon Thomas, with a wink and a smile brought us some variety, dipping into a bit of jazz, funk, bluesy-ness and a whole lot of cruisey. If judge, Graham Thompson from Sydney label, Compass Brothers was going to award prizes on stage presence, then Thomas would have had it in the bag.
It was difficult to pinpoint a clear winner. There were three outstanding performers and another three excellent musicians. Anyone could have been packing their new phone into a backpack, ready for boot camp. In the end, technical execution and raw potential won it for Smith who firmly planted his flag of triumph in the flowerbeds; not an easily won competition, but very well deserved.
Words by Anna Spunde