Chris McKay & The Critical Darlings


Thursday May 25 , 2006
Hodgson Hall - University Of Georgia - Athens, GA
(with Mike Mantione, William Tonks, Timber, Maggie Smith, Winter Sounds, Tangents & Someday Merry)


For me, walking through the doors of Hodgson Hall was intimidating. Just click on the link and look at the pics of the place. This is a concert hall. No, I don't mean like a rock concert. I mean a symphony concert. It's hands down the most beautiful venue I've ever played in (so far)...and it was totally inappropriate for us. We're fast food, not gourmet and I'm not a bit ashamed of that fact. We know what we are and we're good at it (and we'd like to serve billions and billions.). Coming into this room did feel odd. And when I found out we were going on first, it was even more terrifying. The thought of going up on that stage in a "cold room" was rough. Plus, I knew that if we went on first, there was no chance of us winning the competition part of the event. The first act almost never does as all the other acts are weighted against the first act. From my point of view, we were booked on this date for more than just a "battle of the bands". It was a charity event sponsored by the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and the event was to raise money for CASA Kids. Pre-show, we hung out with a lot of the other acts. Somehow we wound up in the biggest (the "star") dressing room and we wandered in and out. JoE Silva interviewed me pre-show. He's got a syndicated NPR show called Just Off The Radar and he was the host for the evening.

At about 8:05 I heard us being introduced from the stage. Before checking, I ran out onto the big stage. When I turned around, I was the only one there. Mike and Frank hadn't heard the announcement so I introduced us, welcomed everyone and basically killed time 'til they filtered out (it seemed like forever, it was probably 10 seconds). We kicked things off with "If I Could (I Guess I Should" because I thought the content of the song was perfect for the charity, even if a little dark. We did it pretty well. It sounded weird onstage because of the echo off the back wall coming back at us but we did okay. That ambience is great for a string section...not so good for a "six-string section", kick and snare. The song bubbled up nicely and was rocking nicely by the middle 8. I noticed how this crowd was actually listening and saw responses on their faces. That was a good feeling. We kept up with the chance-taking by doing "Waiting For The Siren" next. These are two brand-spanking new songs and it took more than a little guts for me to want to pull these out right off the top. But they worked nicely together. Unfortunately, my brain took a detour during the final guitar riff section. I blanked out - which is very unlike me. I faked through it but I know it was obvious that I'd slipped up. It's cool, though, that's the danger (and thrill of taking chances, right?). For fun, I tossed in the big ending from "Someone's Trying To Tell Us Something" as we finished "Waiting For The Siren". I even did my leap. I found it amusing. JoE Silva then walked out from stage right with his mic in hand. I can't tell you how odd it was to have someone walk out and start interviewing us in the middle of a performance. I don't remember much of what was said but I believe I was coherent and semi-amusing which may be the best you're gonna get from me! Since JoE asked us about the album, I figured we should play something from it. So we tore through "Towel Cape Song" and rocked it a bit harder than usual. When it came to an end, I noticed that we still had a couple of minutes before our time limit (15 minutes) so I led the guys into "Phony". Since the song's a long one, I took the opening riff and just turned it straight into the big ending solo. When the delay from the end rang out, we'd played 15 minutes almost to the second. The reception was very warm and I felt we'd done well despite my brain freeze in "Siren".



Completely biased star reviews of each song performed.

1. If I Could (I Guess I Should) ****
2. Waiting For The Siren ***
3. Towel Cape Song ****
4. Phony (End Solo) ****


At the end, I was back and forth. Maggie Smith was an acoustic performer. I heard her and figured the room was tailor-made for her. I thought she'd win. Then the country-rockers in Tangents came out. Frank said "they might have it". Later, Someday Merry did their thing but I still thought Maggie had it locked up just due to the acoustics (not to mention she's really good at what she does). Dan Nolte from Timber was the person I knew best on the bill. He came out with just a drummer and stumbled through a couple of songs. Dan's a strong songwriter and he's been a good friend to us. This was not his best performance. It simply seemed like they didn't have it together. The final band was Winter Sounds. When Frank and I heard them, we both changed our minds and thought that they should probably win overall. Their songs were memorable and interesting and they had a lot of energy. When the winner was announced, it was to our total surprise that Timber won (I actually heard a gasp in the room). Again, I like 'em - but I can't imagine how they won from tonight's performance. Judging by the fact that Dan hadn't even stuck around, I've got a feeling he felt the same way. It was very odd. The weird thing was that Mike Mantione (one of the 2 judges and the founder of Five-Eight) was very nearly apologizing before they made the announcement.'s cool, though. I knew we weren't going to win from the second I found out we were first on the bill but even if we hadn't been in the thing tonight, this result didn't seem quite right.

There were a couple of bits of better news for us. JoE Silva let us know how much he loved "Waiting For The Siren" and asked us if we'd take part in his Athens 441 concert series. The shows are broadcast nationally on NPR. So that's really cool. The other good news tonight came in the form of a raffle. Amanda actually won an Ipod shuffle. I don't exactly know what it is or what it does but I guess we'll figure it out. I also got an amazing personal tour of the John Lennon Bus and a whole bunch of swag. The bottom line for me is that I had a good time and I was proud of our performance tonight.

Oh yeah - and the soundman said we were the first act to ever send all of his sound meters into the red. I'm proud of that, too!


Photos by Amanda Stahl.