Saskatoon throwback rockers the Sheepdogs have made the finals of a Rolling Stone competition that will give the shaggy-haired group a coveted spot on the main stage at the Bonnaroo music festival and a shot at a deal with Atlantic Records.
Oh, and if the rockers win they’ll also become the first unsigned act ever to grace the cover of the iconic music magazine.
The field of 16 competitors has been narrowed to two, with the Sheepdogs vying for the contest’s top prize against Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Lelia Broussard. Both artists’ Bonnaroo performances will be streamed on the magazine’s website, with fan votes determining the winner.
And Sheepdogs bassist Ryan Gullen likes his band’s odds.
“All along we’ve said that if we can get to Bonnaroo, we’re going to bring it — hard,” the personable Gullen said over the line from Saskatoon on Wednesday, the excitement palpable in his voice.
“We really felt we could win a lot of people over with our live performance because we’ve been kind of crafting our live show for a long time. That’s our time to shine. We really feel strongly about that sort of thing.
“Plus, Bonnaroo, with Neil Young and Buffalo Springfield and people like that playing, and My Morning Jacket and Black Keys — that’s sort of our crowd, right?”
Indeed, the Sheepdogs signature musical blend — shaggy, blues-infused rock that harkens back to such ’70s favourites as the Allman Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Big Star — seems a perfect fit with Bonnaroo, which runs from June 9-12, even though the increasingly diverse festival will also feature the likes of Lil Wayne, Arcade Fire, Eminem and the Strokes this year.
The contest began back in February with 16 acts, and has now been narrowed to two.
In the meantime, the Sheepdogs have shmoozed with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, opened for Bachman & Turner, collaborated with Grammy-winning producer and Fountains of Wayne songwriter Adam Schlesinger and watched as interest in their band exploded worldwide.
“It’s been phenomenal,” said Gullen, 26. “A big part of the reason why we wanted to do this — aside from the cool perks about doing it — is just exposing our band. It’s so difficult for a Canadian band to get exposure in the U.S., to break in.”
“We get emails and Facebook messages all the time now: ‘Come to Georgia,’ ‘come to Alabama,’ ‘come to Texas.’ It’s really exciting for us because those are places we’d like to go and tour, and it’s nice to know we’ve already started establishing a fanbase in those places.”
The winner will be crowned on NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, with the subsequent cover feature appearing in the Aug. 18 issue of Rolling Stone.
Of course, the Sheepdogs still have one hurdle to overcome: Broussard, who has won a considerable following of her own with her charming, winsome tunes.
“She seems like a very confident singer and she definitely fits that good-looking female niche as far as singer/songwriters go, so it’s going to be interesting,” said Gullen when asked to size up the competition.
“We’re going to be playing back to back at Bonnaroo. We’re feeling kind of like, we’re bringing the rock live show, so we’re feeling confident about that.
“Not to trash talk the competition or anything, but you know what I’m saying. It’s cool, we’re looking forward to getting onstage and playing for a ton of people and just being like: ’This is our music — BAM!’
“That’s where we’re coming from, and hopefully that will help us out in the contest.”
And for what it’s worth, the Sheepdogs don’t plan on messing with any part of the formula that’s brought them this far.
So fans won’t see any flashy new performance wrinkles or a deviation from the band’s time-warped sense of style (bell bottoms and free-roaming beards being the norm here) designed to win over the online voters who will decide their fate.