Besides attracting alien enthusiasts from New Mexico to New Zealand, the 2011 UFO Festival also drew attention to a relatively new group of attendees: local artists from Roswell and the surrounding areas, that otherwise go unnoticed. Thirty-two acts were featured at the 2011 festival, most of whom were local performers, according to Greg Neal, co-chair of the UFO Festival.
In past years, the festival has garnered talents from all over the country, at a cost upwards of $40,000, without seeing much receptiveness in return. “Why spend that kind of money when we have a lot of good local talent,” Neal said.
This year’s festival focused on acquiring local musicians, and for the first time, brought in a talent agency, Anderson Model and Talent Agency, based in Amarillo, Texas, due in large part to Neal’s initiative. With hopes of drawing attention to the wide array of talent in Roswell and the surrounding areas, Neal began approaching various talent agencies in New Mexico and Texas to attend the festival. Pitching the mutual benefit for agency and artist, Neal told them, “You as an agent never get down to the Southwest, conversely we got a lot of unknown talent down here that can’t afford to go to Dallas, and other big cities, to play so it might work both ways,” adding, he wanted to show these agencies and others, “Roswell is more than a place to stop and get gas on the way to Albuquerque.”
With a limited number of venues in the area to perform at, the festival serves as an opportunity for local artists to showcase their talents on a larger scale. Neal says most of the local artists are amateurs and don’t receive the positive notoriety they would like from performing in bars and other small venues in the area. They also usually do not have money to allot for advertising or promotional purposes, Neal said. These acts also provide a benefit to locals, exposing them to groups they haven’t heard before.
A member of the festival committee must see a talent perform in person or listen to a recording of an artist or group before they are approved as an act. Once approved, artists are paid to perform and do not have to pay any type of fee to play at the venue. This year’s festival included an Alien Battle of the Bands contest featuring performers from Roswell, Ruidoso and Artesia, a belly dancing act from Albuquerque and several solo performances such as world renowned Boogie-Woogie & Blues pianist Rob Rio.
A prime example of the high caliber of talent the area has to offer, Will Banister and the Mulberry Band performed for the first time at the 2011 festival. Banister is from Portales but records at manager John Mulhair’s studio in Clovis. Mulhair is known for his work as producer for LeAnn Rimes’ album “Blue” in the nineties.
Banister has received national attention. His album “Turned Her On To Country,” was nominated CD of the Month in Barcelona, Spain in July, and this past week Mulhair sent several of Banister’s CDs to radio stations throughout Ireland. Calling Banister a “young man who’s into real old-school country,” Mulhair said the singer’s favorite artists are Hank Williams Sr. Merle Haggard and George Jones.
The festival saw a 10 to 11 percent increase in attendance this year. Yet there are still many groups in the area who are in need of exposure so Neal said the festival committee plans to concentrate again on bringing in talent from the Southeastern region of the state for the 2012 festival.
The addition of the Anderson agency to the festival provided a wide array of benefits to local talents. The agency was looking for models and actors in addition to musicians. The winner of the first-ever Alien Battle of the Bands, SHILO, a group from Artesia, won $800, and an eight-hour recording session with Johnny Mulhair. Five locals were also signed to model for Anderson. Roswell residents and sisters Cheyenne, 16, and Jessica, 25, Hewett were among those signed to model. Cheyenne said bringing in agencies, such as Anderson, to the area, “Opens up a lot of doors for kids to do more of what they want to do. There’s a lot of talent here that they [talent agencies] just don’t look at. It’s a small town but there’s a lot of people that are also very good.”
Yet many acts did not take advantage of Anderson being in town. During the festival a media and VIP center was set up to provide those in attendance with an opportunity to meet with the talent agents from Anderson one-on-one. The center was set up from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday night, yet only two out of the 32 performing acts showed up, according to Neal.
The Internet can provide these local artists with many networking and exposure opportunities according to Mulhair who said, “Will hasn’t lived in Nashville and done that thing but he’s already making a name for himself without a major label. The opportunities for independent artists are really good right now because of how you can network on the Internet.” He added, “You got to know how to work the internet, there are lots of opportunities for air play for independent artists on internet radio stations. It’s the best time in the world to actually get something going from wherever you’re at.”