By DAVE PAULSON
When Nashville country-rock group Sixwire made its debut on Fox reality-competition program The Next Great American Band, frontman Andy Childs tried to show viewers what kind of musical environment the band had come from.
"We represent today's Nashville, which is a little different," he said in their introduction segment. "It's not your grandpappy's Nashville."
For the past seven weeks that the program — a spinoff of American Idol — has aired, that point has been hammered home to America, as three of the show's four finalists — Sixwire, Denver and the Mile High Orchestra, and the Clark Brothers — hail from Nashville, each bringing with them a different side of the city's multi-faceted music scene. The fourth band is Light of Doom from San Marcos, Calif.
The presence of the local bands on the show does its part in illustrating to the nation what Nashville has known for years: that the city's wealth of unsung talent doesn't just come from country.
Band executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, who's also behind Idol and So You Think You Can Dance?, doesn't seem surprised by Nashville's heavy presence in the finals.
"It happened before when we came down to Nashville with Idol," he said. "Nashville is a magnet. There's no question about it. It's a magnet for really good talent. It's not just people from your area, you're pulling in a lot of people."
Bands like city's variety
Denver Bierman, frontman for Nashville finalists Denver and the Mile High Orchestra, is one such person who's been drawn to the town for its music scene. The Christian big-band jazz group was formed after Bierman moved to Nashville to study music at Belmont University in the '90s.
"I think the variety of music and variety of really great musicians in other genres and other styles has really grown (in Nashville)," Bierman said. "It is truly becoming 'Music City' more now than ever before."
Although the band's musical style is worlds away from country, Nashville makes sense as its base, considering the Christian music industry's heavy presence.
"That's the kind of Nashville that we've been in for that last nine years," Bierman said. "We'll never abandon our roots, but at the same time, we are really trying to grow as artists and performers, and to get exposed to a broader audience than we had before."
Less surprising to America is probably that family trio the Clark Brothers hails from Nashville, as its sound is rooted in traditional bluegrass but played with a modern edge.
The band has played with its larger family in The Clark Family Experience and its members have backed up and toured with some big names, Carrie Underwood and SHeDAISY among them. As a trio, however, the Clark Brothers couldn't have had less experience. Lead singer Ashley Clark admits that the brothers got together for the first time to shoot a video for the show on the last day tapes could be sent in. Fox called two days later. The band's first gig was their audition in front of the judges.
"We've actually been creating our sound on the show," Clark said.
Sixwire, on the other hand, has had years to hone its Eagles-esque brand of country-rock. The band once was signed to Warner Brothers and released an album in 2002. Its two singles didn't earn much airplay, and the band's deal fell apart during the making of its second album. In the years since, Sixwire has continued to play and record sporadically, but its membeers were uncertain of their next big career move until Band came along.
"We wanted to see if there was some other avenue out there for us," Childs said. "When we were finishing a new project that we were doing out of our own pocket, this show came up, and we thought that it would be the right vehicle for us to relaunch Sixwire."
Jason Scheer, owner of restaurant/venue the Tin Roof — where members of Sixwire have acted as a house band — is one of the Nashvillians thrilled by the band's success on the show.
"They're the nicest group of guys," he said. "The fact that they're getting another shot is just awesome."
The Clark Brothers are getting their share of support as well.
"My in-laws have just been going insane, voting like maniacs, but I love it." Clark said.
Success not guaranteed
Even if they win the competition, the bands could be disappointed if they expect Idol-size success based on ratings. Band, for example, in Nashville is currently ranked 12th out of 13 Friday-night primetime series.
This fact hasn't stopped the Nashville acts from looking on the bright side. Bierman says his band received an "almost instantaneous" increase in attention and Web hits once the show aired.
"Record sales on our Web site have been through the roof compared to where they've ever been," he said.
And the Clark Brothers — whom Lythgoe personally believes has the brightest future — seem to be just enjoying the ride.
"The whole thing has been nail-biting and exciting," Clark said, "and something I'll never forget for the rest of my life."