Sweet Home singers take top spots in Country Showdown

Sean C. Morgan

August 3, 2011

Sweet Home country music artists took the top two places at the Texaco Country Showdown held during the Linn County Fair on July 23.

Randy Nicholson and his band took first at the regional event, which included performers from Linn, Marion, Benton and Lincoln counties, and will be among five performers competing the state showdown on Sept. 23 in Coos Bay for a trip to Nashville, $100,000 and a recording contract.

Nicholson played at the Oregon Jamboree Sunday afternoon on the Spirit Mountain Casino stage in Sankey Park with his band, including Billy Lakey on guitar, Rich Strode on bass, Kassie Iverson on backup vocals and Travis Perkins on drums.

Previous showdown winner Tristan Nichols and newcomer Trevor Tagle, both of Sweet Home, placed second as a duo. Nichols and Tagle performed – along with J.D. of Philomath and Jackson Michelson, who also played on the Spirit Mountain stage – at the Oregon Jamboree kickoff party in the Safeway parking lot Thursday evening.

Nicholson, Nichols and Tagle all finished ahead of a contestant who had won the contest the past two years, Nicholson said. “I was stoked. We had the top two bands.”

Nicholson, of the disbanded October Rising, has found his musical passion, turning from October Rising’s acoustic pop style toward Texas-style, Oklahoma red-dirt country.

Nicholson hadn’t planned to compete, but he went along to support his friend Danielle Dimick of Sweet Home, he said. “We both sang, and we both actually made it to the top 20.”

He thinks her idea was to get him to do the competition, Nicholson said.

The top 20 went on to Marion County, and he performed a cover of Randy Rogers Band’s “In My Arms Instead.”

“I started writing country when I was a kid,” said Nicholson, who has always enjoyed artists such as Willie Nelson. Earlier this year, a friend, noting similarities between Nicholson and Texas country, introduced Nicholson to some of the Texas and red-dirt bands, such as Stoney LaRue, who will swing through Oregon, performing in LaGrande and Canby and at Molalla on Aug. 13.

“As soon as I showed everybody the country songs, they said, ‘that’s your niche,’” Nicholson said. He said he wasn’t happy with October Rising’s musical direction, and he left in January.

“It’s obvious this is what we should be doing.”

He finds his inspiration in growing up in Sweet Home, hunting, fishing and drinking beer, he said.

“I won with two original songs,” Nicholson said about the 14-band Linn County show. The songs were “Beer and Bonfires” and “If We Would’ve Known.”

That was just after putting the band together the week before Marion County. With two weeks in between Marion County and Linn County, the band ended up with only a day to practice.

“We’ve been together three weeks, and we’re playing the Jamboree,” he said. His backup singer had never performed in public. Everyone else has experience. Nicholson had played with Perkins for about a year and Lakey around the campfire. He met Strode two days before the Marion County show. The group played a 45-minute set Sunday afternoon.

“Ask me a month ago, I would’ve said that is my goal – to play at the biggest country show in the world,” Nicholson said, but a month ago, he wasn’t playing any of this.

“I’m honored to be on that stage with that caliber of musicians in my hometown,” he said.

The band will play Friday night at the Scio “Summer of Love” festival, featuring local bands. The cost is $5 for a three-day pass. Camping is free.

Nichols and Tagle performed an original song, “Talk About Us,” and the Zac Brown Band’s “Colder Weather” at the Linn County Fair.

Nichols is a veteran of the showdown and has played the Jamboree main stage, while Tagle has just performed “around the campfire” with his family. The two work together at Lebanon Public Works.

“It was like a week before, and he’s like, we should try out,” Tagle said between performances at the Jamboree kickoff party.

Tagle’s family had been telling him he should try out for “American Idol.” He did try out, but he wasn’t selected.

“I think we did well,” Nichols said.