by Ben Shine
When I start the process of creating these list-y top-three posts, I usually ask four or five times the amount of people I need to write an entire article, knowing that only a handful of people will actually get back to me.
But, when I started asking current Indiana musicians to name their all-time favorite Hoosier inspirations, I got way more than I expected. I think people really love to shine a light on their favorites and introduce people to artists they really love. So, in celebration of Indiana’s Bicentennial, here’s part two of my series.
You know the criteria by now: I’m not looking for the most famous or successful musicians from Indiana. I’m looking for picks from the heart -- three Hoosier musicians, bands, songwriters whose songs, style or work ethic impact them on a personal and professional level.
Chris Banta, Brother O' Brother
John Mellencamp - I'm only human. Mellencamp was someone who took a little while for me to appreciate, but once I did, his music really feels like the voice of the Midwest. Essentially the Midwest Boss.
Sleeping Bag - Definitely a newer band in the scope of all-time etcetera, but I absolutely love every bit of their music. The Deep Sleep album is incredible and personal to me, as I was dealing with the loss of a family member and found myself listening to Deep Sleep almost every day.
David Baker - LEGENDARY composer, teacher, King of Cool. He was my History of Jazz professor at IU, and he also leads the IU jazz band and Smithsonian band. His accomplishments and creations blow me away, and the smallest conversations with him were always brimming with cool.
Lani Williams, Mars or the Moon
I'd have to say that female vocalists have always influenced me most, not only because I'm female and a vocalist, but because there aren't nearly as many women in leading roles as there are men. I find it as empowering watching other women shine as I do performing (and I seriously love playing with my three boy bandmates).
I first saw Stacia Demos shine her light in the band Middletown, though she is a force that can be found all over this city in many musical ventures (including children's music). I admire her strong presence greatly.
Kate Lamont has always been an inspiring and creative performer for me. Madlab and Blueprint Music are some of my favorites.
I feel like Jen Christy should get a mention here too. She's been out there, mostly as a solo artist, for a long while.
The Why Store was my gateway band to the local scene. I loved their sound, good energy... and Chris Shaffer has such a great presence on stage. One of my favorite music memories is him joining me on the Rock Lobster stage while I covered their Surround Me tune.
This town has a wealth of talented songwriters. Tim Grimm became one of my favorites several years ago. I saw him play at IRT with Ramblin Jack Elliot, and I was hooked immediately. His songs paint such vivid pictures of family, of Indiana. His songs feel like home to me.
For my third spot, I couldn't decide between Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band and Otis Gibbs. Too many nice things to say about both of those guys. Both rich in talent and character. It's why they continue to shine.
CHiVES - An old soul in mint condition. Real good live rock and roll with some intense creative rhythms.
David "Moose" Adamson - Jookabox was the only band around town that made me dance in public. Sedcairn Archives forces me to meditate in public.
Nate Hammond - It's anybody's game so long as this guy don't play.
Shelby Kelley - Awesome artist, great songwriter and the reason I came to Indy. I would steal his band (Shelby County Sinners) if I could get away with it.
Derek Johnson, Composer/Multi-Instrumentalist
My “top 3” Indiana musicians (drum roll please...). They all share these qualities: sincerity, talent and a really, really, really big thing to say.
Stasia Demos Mills
Tad Armstrong - Because he's unaffected and honest. Because he's as fine of a songwriter and performer as you'll ever meet ... anywhere. Because his songs always make me feel like I'm coming home.
Lily and Madeleine - Because I had to pull the car over the first time I heard their voices. Because they're a great Indiana example of what musical mentoring should look like.
A tie between Johnny Socko (because, uh, hello -- banana suit coupled with kickass musicians!) and Kate Lamont because, when that girl sings and collaborates with artists like TJ Reynolds or Sarah Grain, the earth shifts a little on its axis.
Dan Snodgrass, Bonesetters
I've always been in awe of Mike Adams’ writing and performance, whether with Husband & Wife or His Honest Weight. His voice and style are strong! His work feels like a close friend reminding you that it's OK to get deep and be silly and be yourself - even if it's your darkest self.
S.M. Wolf's sugary fuzz pop helps fill in the gaps in my teeth, especially their latest one. Adam and Co. know how to keep you up!
Gentleman Caller has a soft spot for me too. One of my top moments playing music was when Kenny said he liked a song of ours, when I'd been a fan of his since I discovered his albums on Musical Family Tree in College. Everything I've heard of his, or projects he relates to, puts me back into this time of uneasy nervousness, but in a good way.
Benjamin Cannon, Spark Joy Music
Jess Strantz (Von Strantz) - She's shown a talent for sprawling her demons and heartbreak across any canvas she chooses. Her voice is undeniably powerful, the songs beneath it all are well-composed and deeply felt, but their emotional impact will change your life.
Charlie Ballantine - Combining timeless melodicism with forward-thinking lines and textures, His style and approach is measuring the immeasurable and breathing new life into our jazz scene in Indy. His first LP Green is brilliantly composed and his live shows are extraordinary.
Jeff Kelly (Prowlers and The Prey) - He's quickly become one of the best songwriters in our city, combining passionate vocals with throat-punching honesty in his lyrics. His live performances, whether solo or full band, are almost religious experiences conjuring spirits that will surely alter how people view our local music scene. I honestly believe his best music is yet to come.
Melissa Davis, WFYI
Manners, Please. - I'm a big fan of newer Indianapolis based electro pop band Manners, Please. Super fun music with really introspective verses. Their lyrics cut close to the heart surrounded by playful acoustics. It's like packaging tears with unicorns. I can't wait to see where their music takes them.
Janet Jackson. - I probably don't need to add an explanation, here. Ms. Jackson is a national treasure, a legend and she's from Indiana. As soon as I hear her music, I'm smiling. School dance memories, forever. Indiana girl to universal superstar. That's pretty cool.
The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band - Watching Rev & Breezy start as hometown heroes and grow to an internationally acclaimed blues band is an amazing process to witness. The talent and determination of this band is a wonderful representation of our Hoosier work ethic. Good people playing good music, and they're proudly from Indiana. We're lucky to have them based in our home state.