Discovering Atlanta’s Best Local Talent: Undiscovered Artist Series at MadLife

This spring, MadLife Stage & Studios in Woodstock, Georgia hosted the next round of their bi-weekly event called the “Undiscovered Artist Series.” This event features solo songwriters, vocalists, and small bands, although any musicians can apply to perform. Hosted by singer/songwriter, Greg Shaddix, local and regional artists are invited to sign up and feature two to three of their best songs in MadLife’s state of the art venue in hopes of moving on to the next round.

During the first round, artists perform two to three songs based on how many artists have signed up that evening. A panel of judges select three finalists and the audience gets to select a “crowd favorite” to serve as a fourth finalist based on applause. The four finalists are invited back to the stage to perform one more song before the final awards are given. Cash prizes are awarded to first, second, and third place finalists and all four finalists receive an invitation to the quarter finals.

The panel of judges are comprised of well-established local musicians, music producers, engineers and local business executives. Each judge has their own personal criteria but in general judges are attracted to originality, vocal and instrumental skills, and heartfelt committed performances.

Musicians are hopeful to win the grand prize of recording time in MadLife’s recording studio with Grammy nominated chief studio engineer Steven Morrison.

Performing first for the evening was Keith Cuts and his ukulele. Keith Cuts grew up loving music especially hip hop but never saw himself as a songwriter or performing artist. Not until he discovered the ukulele in 2013. After learning a few chords Keith took to writing his own compositions and songs designed to uplift and inspire others. Originally from NYC Keith now performs shows and artist showcases all around Atlanta. His music has been described as Jack Johnson meets Bruno Mars with some Tony Robbins mixed in. Keith hopes to put out some songs and albums that touch people worldwide and make them want to reach for their higher selves. Keith’s next show is at Westview Marketplace in Atlanta on April 21 at 4pm. 

From Dunwoody, Georgia the second on the list to perform was Scotty Krieg. Scotty stated, “I started playing guitar at 12, and played in rock bands and gigged from the ages of 15-20. Around 21, I had been singing for a few years and tried my hand at a solo career, in country. Without going into detail, I had one or two failures that made me want to start studying for law school and forget the idea of a career in music. Fast forward to a few months ago. The bassist of my old band, the best musician I’ve ever met (who’s accomplished far more than me), finds out he has a tumor in his brain and goes through 8 or so brain surgeries, and as of right now probably has a good 3 years before he will walk again, let alone play bass. Basically, seeing the best musician I know go through this made me realize music is a gift and that I should utilize it as much as humanly possible.” 

Next was Wyatt Espalin, a singer/songwriter and fiddler. Wyatt’s hometown of Hiawassee, Georgia has been fortunate enough to be entertained by Wyatt since the age of eleven. Wyatt and his brother Matt were known as “The Fiddling Brothers” and the two performed often until Matt decided to hang up his bow after high school. Wyatt has continued making music when he partnered with Cobi Ferguson to form the acclaimed Americana duo, Trees Leave. The two released two albums together called Run in 2008 and The Gospel of Hurt in 2010. Wyatt has since released a solo album called “The Pardon” which gives the listener a “glimpse into breakups burdens, colorful britches, and the light on the other side of it all.” Living now in Nashville, Tennessee, Wyatt has released his latest EP on March 2nd called “The Last Leaf.” 

Singer/songwriter from Alpharetta, Georgia, Tim Stevens performed two of his original songs on the keyboard. With two albums under his belt, Tim is working on his third album and should have it completed by year’s end. In the meantime, you can find Tim’s quirky and fun songs on Grottomatic, iTunes, and Spotify. According to Tim, “If you like the sort of music made by They Might Be Giants, Logan Whitehurst, or TV’s Kyle, then you will likely enjoy the one-man nerd band Grottomatic.”
I always find myself grinning when Tim performs at MadLife. His songs are catchy and make me chuckle at the witty lyrics and unusual topics. My personal favorite song that I have heard Tim perform is about renowned painter Bob Ross, and is entitled “The Joy of Painting.” 

Another of the songs Tim performed for the MadLife crowd was called “Virtual Road Trip.”

Cheeseburgers ain’t healthy, gasoline ain’t cheap
A motel room is not the nicest place to sleep
Traveling ain’t easy when you’re short on dough
You have to cut down on the distance you want to go
But thanks to those at Google Earth, I’m satisfied
I can get away without even going outside

Bryant Looper performed fifth in the evening’s lineup. Bryant is a Georgia native who has lived in and around Atlanta for most of his life. When he was 13 his dad took him to Eddie’s Attic to see Shawn Mullins, where he fell in love with the idea of being a singer/songwriter. He has had a passion for song writing as a way of storytelling ever since. Most of his songs are stories and observations from his life. From being a terrified Freshman in high school, to spending six years in the Marine Corps, to getting married and becoming a dad, to traveling around the country for almost 10 years as a salesman, his guitar has been by his side throughout each new chapter, and in his lap at the end of almost every day. Bryant says he’s lived his life just like he’s learned to play guitar and write songs…as he goes. “Life is a self-taught journey. You look to people who inspire you. You try your best to pay attention to how they play, how they connect to the crowd, and how they develop their own style by playing to their strengths. Then you go home and practice over and over again. And the hope is over time you figure out how to make music that’s 100% your own, then you hope your audience enjoys what they hear.” 

Stephen Gendron wowed audiences with his performance on the electric guitar. Stephen Gendron is an “Instrumental Guitarist” covering many styles of music including Blues, Rock, Metal, Contemporary and Acoustical Classic arrangements. Playing music since the age of 11, Stephen was a self-taught musician learning to read and write music until he studied Music Theory and Music History at Reinhardt College. Formerly a member of a local Atlanta band 3 Week Funk from 1997-1999 and briefly with a band “Funks Hybrid” in 1998 covering lead and rhythm guitars and mostly saxophone. After a pause for 10 years to begin a family. Stephen began writing, producing and performing as a solo guitar instrumentalist in 2008. Periodically stepping in to cover lead guitar for bands at times but most of the focus has been on solo projects. “My goal is to create beautiful music that creates some kind of emotion and reaction from the individual when listening.” To date Stephen has 4 albums released digitally which include Genres, Echoes of Creation in Time, Stephen Gendron (self-titled) and Revelations Vol 1. Stephen released his first Christmas EP in 2017 entitled “White Album.”  

Originally from South Carolina, the singer/songwriter from Atlanta, GA, Ian Calk was came to the stage next. Ian performs in an indie-pop band with traces of soul called Brighter Light. Ian and his younger brother Gareth formed Brighter Light in 2015 and their latest song “Wishing I was Somebody Else” gained 10,000 streams in the first week of its release. This song was featured in the 2018 soundtrack of the movie Tomb Raider. Ian says, “I heard about MadLife because I was looking for new venues in Atlanta to try out and I saw a post about MadLife on Facebook. I saw they did mostly cover bands so I didn’t think it’d really be a place for me to play, but then I saw they had the Undiscovered Artist series so I signed up. MadLife almost instantly became one of my favorite venues in Atlanta…..especially for original artists.” 

The evening’s only female performer and local Woodstock resident, Ashley Carson performed next on the stage. According to her artist bio, at the tender age of 14, Ashley Carson received her first guitar from her uncle. He began giving her little mini-lessons on Sunday afternoon at her grandparents’ house. From then on, her free time was spent watching guitar lessons on YouTube and working at her craft.

Flash forward. Now, Ashley is an 18-year-old country/contemporary Christian music singer/songwriter. Ashley has played multiple times at the local coffee house, The Copper Coin in Woodstock, GA, twice at The BlueBird Café in Nashville, TN, multiple times at Eddie Owen Presents at the Red Clay Theater in Duluth, GA, the Duluth Fall Festival, the Georgia National Fair in Perry, GA, and at the FFA State Convention in Macon, GA.

Although Ashley began playing and writing in the country genre, she also writes some contemporary Christian music. Some of her inspirations are Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Phil Wickham, and Josh Turner.  When not writing and singing, Ashley is very involved in FFA, Beta Club, and New Salem Baptist Church Youth Group. She serves as president for her high school FFA chapter. In Beta Club, she has participated in community service, such as recycling and Trunk or Treat. Lastly, she leads the music for the Youth Group at New Salem.”

Finally, Justin Phillips rounded out the evening with his acoustic guitar performance. Originally from Texas, Justin calls Atlanta home and this was his debut performance at MadLife. After playing at other local venues around town Justin commented “how nice it was to find a venue where people listened to his songs, where he was not just background noise.” Justin has always had a passion for singing and songwriting since high school and has performed in bands throughout his life. Like many other musicians, Justin has a corporate day job to pay the bills but his true passions lie in making music.

Finalist were Bryant Looper, Ian Calk, Wyatt Espalin, and Ashley Carson, with Ian Calk taking first place. All four finalists are invited to perform in the semi-finals where larger cash prizes will be awarded.

To be considered for future shows, local and regional artists should submit their name and submission requirements to http://madlifestageandstudios.com/undiscovered/

Carey Hood Written by: