“People swear up and down that they hate country music. Then they’ll come to our show and be like, ‘God, that was awesome,’” says Larry Reha of the Rhyolite Sound, the band that earned a slot at this year’s Life Is Beautiful Festival. “That means we’re doing something right.”
The Rhyolite Sound was one of eight emerging acts competing at the festival’s Battle of the Bands at The Bunkhouse Saloon this past weekend. Each act brought its A-game, but ultimately Reha and company bested the other contenders after six hours of back-to-back performances (and 24 hours of online voting).
The lineup was diverse, featuring acts from an array of genres. Each had 25 minutes to win the crowd over and impress the three judges (each vote and the online poll counted as 25 percent).
Although the bands were obviously the main attraction, The Bunkhouse enticed everybody out early with a free Bloody Mary bar and plenty of other pleasing distractions, including a Life Is Beautiful garage sale, a free tie-dye station and more. As soon as the bands started, everybody turned their attention to the music.
Lisa Mac kicked things off with a strong set marked by stylish and powerful vocals. Her emotional lyrics were accented by her brooding voice, while her guitarist added texture and her drummer kept expert time.
Mac was followed by CHERREYS, a jazzy, folk-rock quartet. The three vocalists deftly traded melodies and harmonies while taking turns on lead vocals. Anchored by a tight timekeeper, the outfit bounced around onstage, bringing plenty of energy.
The Ones, a hip-hop crew composed of rappers Steelo El and Rawlo Black, turned in the third set of the day. The pair’s clear and strong voices accentuated the high-energy set and compensated for the dreaded recorded vocals that played in the background.
Up next was DT and the Soul Joos Band, whose nine members nearly overwhelmed the small stage. The group offered the kind of engaging energy that grabbed the attention of even casual listeners.
The Rhyolite Sound took home the prize with its distinctive brand of country, a sound that they’ve affectionately dubbed Desert Honky Tonk. Named for an abandoned Nevada town where you can supposedly hear spaceships, Rhyolite indeed had everybody dancing.
Camden West and his band 10K switched things up with a set of radio-friendly pop-rock songs. His soulful vocal style was matched by the solid musicianship of his charismatic bandmates. The chemistry of these Las Vegas Academy alums was unmistakable.
Led by an expressive lead vocalist, Louder Than Words served up a heavier guitar-driven sound bolstered by catchy pop-based melodies. In their hands, a cover of “Closer,” the obnoxiously inescapable single by the Chainsmokers, was made almost tolerable.
Rabid Young, possibly the most well-known act on the bill, showcased intricate, synth-heavy production, reinforced by strong vocals and undeniable energy from a lead singer that literally could not be held down.
Offering something diverse for Life Is Beautiful 2017, the Rhyolite Sound will bring their unique offering to the festival’s broad platform, picking up an undoubtedly fresh and expanded fan base in the process. In turn, Las Vegas’ music scene rides high on this vibrant wave.