Every promoter in town hosts "events," but how many of those endeavors are truly events — truly something special? Yes, there are some club nights and some shows that are memorable, but how many of them actually stake out new territory, pushing the envelope for both artists and audiences? Not many. If there's one promoter we've come to expect earth-shattering, game-changing events from, it's Courtney "Coko" Eason, founder of the hugely successful Soundtrack Beat Battle and the brains behind this week's first-of-its-kind Strange Arrange, a hip-hop and R&B live-arrangement competition. Half battle of the bands, half remix competition and completely unique, Strange Arrange is exactly the sort of progressive, innovative event that is in short supply in the live music world.
But how exactly does it work?
"We have five top bands from all over the nation that were picked from a combination of [Internet] voting and different scoring factors — arrangement, difficulty, creativity and showmanship," says Eason. "They're coming to Nashville on July 14 to compete in front of the audience and judges' panel by performing a live arrangement — or a live remix, really — of some of today's hottest hits."
Each band has created a 10-minute medley featuring a hip-hop song, an R&B song of their own choosing and a pop song assigned by the Strange Arrange staff — the latter being control group of sorts, in this case Katy Perry's 2008 mega-hit "I Kissed a Girl." The band plays a vocal-only version of each track while supplanting the original music with a creation of their own — or as Eason puts it, "They jam that thing out, remix it and arrange it into something crazy that we've never heard before." If the audition videos (available on StrangeArrange.com) are any indication, this event is closer to the Olympics than your average battle of the bands — the talent on display is prodigious, the sounds adventurous — and the competition is bound to be fierce.
"A lot of these cats started playing in the church, and that's why there's a lot of people excited to see this," says Eason. "If you know anything about gospel musicians, you know that they can play things that you can't even fathom. Everybody's really excited to see them come together and compete in a battle mode. ... It's a lot of amateurs. There might be a few folks that have been blessed with a popular gig, but they're not professional, huge, moneymaking musicians at all. They're all still struggling, waiting for their big break."
And Strange Arrange could in fact be the break they're looking for. Yes, there are prizes — recording time, gear, loot — but the real appeal is getting to perform in front of urban-music heavy hitters like producer/performer Musiq Soulchild, music director Adam Blackstone, drummer Gerald Heyward and bassist Ethan Farmer, all of whom have worked with the some of the biggest names in contemporary music. And it's no coincidence that Strange Arrange falls on the same weekend as the National Association of Music Merchants' summer trade show — Eason sees it as the perfect opportunity to introduce the industry to some of its most industrious up-and-comers, offering discounts for NAMM attendees and using her major-league networking mojo to bring them in. The reality is that there just aren't a lot of local venues for musicians to find some shine in contemporary urban music — the rise of digital production and laptop DJs has taken over where musicians and musicianship once reigned supreme — but Strange Arrange might be the first step toward rectifying that.
Or as Eason puts it, "This has never been done before, but people are comparing it to P. Diddy's [television show] Making the Band. But we think it's going to be even bigger."