He didn’t attempt to sing, nor did he perform with any other musicians, but in this year’s sixth annual Battle of the Bands final, Kyle Pullan delivered a crowning performance.
A crowd started to form near the small, lit up stage at Tommy’s Neighbourhood Pub in Banff on Wednesday (Dec. 13). Pullan, a fingerstyle acoustic guitarist and the Battle of the Bands’ only solo act of the evening, was up next.
Gripping beer cans and pint glasses, the crowd shuffled themselves, trying to find a view of the stage at the far-end of the dimly lit pub in anticipation of the bearded musician’s performance.
“It’s just me – me and my music,” said Pullan, the 2017 winner of Banff’s Battle of the Bands. It’s the first time a solo act has taken top prize.
“I played for so many years in bands … and to have myself kind front and centre is what I’ve been working toward my whole musical career, so it just makes my entire soul smile.”
It was the first year the competition allowed solo musicians to sign up and compete within the three pillars that Banff’s Battle of the Bands is built on: original material, musicianship and stage presence.
“It’s all about original music,” said organizer Garry Gonis over the stage mic to the audience.
Earlier in the night, at 10 p.m., the sounds of progressive metal duo Human Stain let everyone know the finals had officially started with some thunder.
It’s the third time Nick Christou (guitar) and Nick Tessier’s (drums) have competed in the battle and their first time making it to the finals, where they took on two other local acts.
Following their set, however, the duo was cheering for one of the night’s rivals.
“I think Kyle’s going to win,” said Tessier.
“I vote for Kyle,” Christou added.
Human Stain wasn’t going to be a pushover en route to the crown, though, and neither was the final’s second act, three-piece folk rock band Bighorn Thunder, consisting of Morgan Scott (drums), Nico Tobias (vocals, bass) and Jacob Posacki (vocals, guitar).
The trio of finalists walked into the pub venue that night believing they each had 45 minutes to showcase their stuff in front of the crowd and judges, but crafty organizer Gonis threw a curveball at the performers and cut each set’s time down to 15 minutes.
“It was easy for us (to adjust) because we don’t have that much material ourselves,” said Posacki, after finishing the final set of Bighorn Thunder’s first appearance in the Battle.
For others, though, it wasn’t as easy.
With a set list of songs ready on queue from Pullan’s album Into the Wild, which dropped this past October and can be found at www.kylepullan.com, the solo act found himself in a peculiar spot with time fading away.
“So, I mean, I had to break it down to the songs I thought I could connect the most with the crowd and keep them entertained,” he said. “I changed my entire set list before tonight (Dec. 13) because I had a different one in mind, but I had to go with the flow for the evening Garry had planned.”
Despite a sudden overhaul of his preset performance, Pullan impressed the audience and judges with his fingerstyle playing, which he describes as “using the guitar as a percussion instrument and mixing in complicated finger-picking” of the strings.
“It takes a lot of confidence to go up there and really show yourself, ‘cause I try to live through my music,” he said. “There’s no words (in my songs) but every song is a story in my mind and I read that story to myself every time I play it. It’s always emotional because that’s where my music comes from. I shut myself off from the world and go into my music and that’s what I feel.”
Pullan won $500 for first place, while $300 and $200 went to Bighorn Thunder and Human Stain for the runner up spots, respectively.
On top of the cash, the three local acts will also get their own concert at artsPlace in Canmore on March 10, 2018 along with last year’s Battle of the Bands winners, four-piece rock band Tea + Biscuits.
Plus, the trio of victors get a spot on stage at Banff’s 2018 Harvest Festival.
The artsPlace show in March will be the next time the fingerstyle guitarist plays the Bow Valley, though, as he’s leaving on a “high note” and is already in his home province of Ontario.
Along with his guitar, some bragging rights boarded the plane with Pullan, but he will be back in a few months.
“I’m taking a break from the valley for a while; hopefully it will get people excited for me again,” he said.
“I wasn’t expecting to win, I did this for fun and gave it my all. The support here is amazing in the Bow Valley and that’s the most important thing; we all take care of each other.”