*UPDATE: Check out more of the A&R Showcase concert photos here!
Article and Photos By: Kayleigh Mill
“Showcase” is the perfect description of Berklee A&R/Artist Development Group’s first concert. When I walked into to The Red Room, I expected a show filled with not just talent – I expect that with every Berklee concert – but also with diversity and a clear knowledge of popular music. The brand new club, started by Joe James and Steven Gringer, didn’t disappoint.
The lineup included eight performers (two songs each), and was carefully composed of a variety of genres and styles. After the emcee’s slightly-too-long introduction, the show flowed seamlessly with the help of video introductions for every performer filling the gap between each act.
I made sure to show up early to get a good view of the stage, as The Red Room is standing room only for shows like this. I definitely made a good decision, because when I glanced back as the lights dimmed, the room was absolutely packed with people. Playing into the Berklee stereotype, the showcase started off with a very enthusiastic jazz piece by Russian songwriter Alexey Sokolov. I was a little caught off guard by this beginning, having come in expecting strictly popular genres of today, but both of his songs, “Time To Party” and “Forgiveness,” were played passionately and with an impressive technicality. Up next was Raven Katz, and her style was more what I expected. Inspired by Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon, she had a very sweet sound that crooned about lost love and abandonment.
The folk theme continued when Charles Johnson and his violinist Kailey Shaffer walked on stage. Having been in several Singer/Songwriter Showcases, Charles Johnson is a performer I know well. His rough, gravelly voice and emotional melodies never fail to keep his audience captivated and this show was no different. The room was silent while he sang the heartbreaking “Squirrel” and bluegrass-influenced “Crazy Horse.”
Female rocker Brooke Villanyi stood out for being the first rock act in the show, but not for much else. Byron Manchest, however, owned the stage from the minute he walked on. The crowd clearly knew who he was, but his funk-infused R&B songs were filled with such soul that I’m sure he could have evoked a reaction if he didn’t know a single person there.
Speaking of owning the stage, Melanie Donnelly has the most stage presence I have seen in my time at Berklee. This girl is a pop star waiting to happen. Whether singing her originals or songs written for her (in this case, pop writer Ben Samama), Melanie knows what it means to perform and sound like she’s already part of the top 40s. Franka Batelic, who has already gained a level of fame in Croatia, also performed in the pop sector of the show. She was very charismatic, but her music was more reminiscent of ‘90s pop than the hits of today. The night ended with Tim Coakley’s Maroon 5-inspired rock band and a somewhat disappointing drop in stage presence.
Overall, the A&R Showcase was entertaining and, well, inspiring. Most of the artists strive to be playing their music for anyone willing to listen five years down the line or longer. The level of passion and commitment to music that these artists display has taken them this far, and the showcase seemed to allude to the great things to come.