Hearts of the Valley Talent Search: April 10th at the Majestic… Local Musicians Take Note!

Have you ever wondered how many great musicians go undiscovered because they never had the funds to record an album? Here in the Willamette Valley, those musicians have a unique chance to break into the industry. Gabriel Surley, chief engineer of Wild Rose Studios in Corvallis, has organized a talent search to discover promising local musicians. The prize: your own professionally recorded album.

A transplant from Austin, Texas who recently swapped his skateboard for a surfboard, Surley is chief engineer at Wild Rose under studio owners Theodore and Kira Wadman. The owners are now concentrating on sustainable farming at their other venture, Helios Farms, leaving Surley to mind the recording studio. Under Surley’s purview (he’s also a carpenter), the pleasant one-acre grounds and home at Wild Rose Studios are turning into a hub for professional musicians.

Behind the perfectly sound-treated recording studio (equipment includes Pro Tools HD 3, DigiDesign D-Command, Neumann U 87, and Avalon 737 for the techies out there), the site offers a hot tub and surrounding forest for visiting musicians to enjoy. Eventually, it will feature a large outdoor deck and ropes course for team-building exercises. Future plans also include an artistic outdoor cob oven. Music, art, and cob oven cooking classes are all in the works, with an eye to turning the site into a center for learning and culture. Music, however, is truly the center of Surley’s life.

“I play drums, I sing, I play guitar, I play cello, I’ll play pretty much anything that you hand me,” said Surley, former drummer for Coin of the Realm Orchestra. “By the year 2000, I was deep into recording and working for a music television station.”

This love of music led him to develop the Hearts of the Valley Talent Search, which debuts next month. Anyone can take part in the initial open mic contests held every Monday at FireWorks to participate in the talent search. Each week’s winners go on to a bimonthly Acoustic Showdown. Every six months, the Showdowns culminate with the Hearts of the Valley Talent Search. Six artists will perform three songs each in a local theater; current contestants are Laura Ivancie, Shilpi Halemane, Betsey Miller, Karl Smiley, Santino Cadiz, and Mahogany Driftwood. Surley and his sound technician and video editor, Clay Berthelson of Wild Rose Studios, will record and film all of the performances.

“Even the five contestants that don’t win are still getting a recording of three of their songs in the theater with really good acoustics,” Surley noted. “The winner will go on to record an album at Wild Rose Studios.”

The talent search is a true community event, with three local celebrity judges, including Nicole Knutson from KBVR, the weekly open mic hosted by FireWorks, prizes by Gracewinds Music, and promotion by KBVR and The Corvallis Advocate. Drinks at the show are provided by Oregon Trail Brewery and 2 Towns Ciderhouse.

“This community needs to support their artists, and the artists need to offer themselves to this community,” Surley said. “It’s a win-win for everybody. It helps the businesses, it helps the community.”

Additionally, 15 percent of the ticket sales will benefit the Zach Konowalchuk Music Trust, providing music lessons and instruments to children who could otherwise not afford them. A fellow musician and good friend to Surley, Konowalchuk’s death last year served as inspiration behind the Hearts of the Valley Talent Search.

And is there talent in the Valley?

It’s “topnotch,” said Surley. “Their lives are so amazing, their stories; they can bring people together. That has a lot to do with why I’m doing this.

“Honestly, it is selfish,” he added, “because I feel so good when I help people. There’s no more powerful emotion than purpose, so that’s what I do.”

The Hearts of the Valley Talent Search will debut on April 10th from 7 – 10 p.m. at Corvallis’ Majestic Theatre. Admission is $5. Find more information at www.wildrosestudios.com or at the studio’s Facebook page.

by Jen Matteis