Downriver boys snag uptown cred at battle of the bands

Members of the Down River Band the moment they won The Bout. From left are Valley Gilhuly, Connor Elnicki, Ian Mcleay and Kurt Brown. Submitted Photo

Cathy Dobson  

“It was crazy.”

That’s how lead guitarist Kurt Brown describes the moment The Down River Band learned they’d beaten 115 others to win The Bout, a high stakes battle of the bands in Toronto.

“We went in thinking we wouldn’t win because most of the other bands were bigger ones from Toronto,” said Brown. “But we wanted it so badly.

“So when we won, there was this flood of people around us.  The champagne was popping and a cheque for $12,000 was handed to us.

“It was a feeling I don’t really think I’ve ever felt before,” he said.

The Down River Band (DRB) was formed five years ago by a group of 20-somethings from Corunna, Mooretown, Courtright and Port Lambton.

DRB has built a reputation for being a young band fond of classic rock. Most shows combine Pink Floyd, Tragically Hip, BTO and Zeppelin covers with a heavy dose of DRB’s original music.

Today the band consists of lead singer and guitarist Valley Gilhuly, drummer Connor Elnicki, Brown, and bass player Ian Mcleay, who had the good fortune of joining just a few months before The Bout.

“I think we won because we’re really tight,” said Gilhuly.  “We practice a lot and we play out a lot. I think this is the best we’ve ever sounded.”

The band has developed a local following performing regularly at Sarnia bars, weddings and special events like Firefighters’ Field Days.

They tried their luck at The Bout last year, made it to the finals, and left with second place.

“The reason we went for it at all was because it is in Toronto and we wanted to play in Toronto,” said Brown.  “Besides that, the Hideout where it’s held is a big place and the sound there is fantastic.

“Everyone there is a rocker. It’s really fun to play there.”

The Bout was held over numerous weekends starting in January. DRB learned they’d made the finals in April and competed against five other bands to win the title on May 3.

A panel of judges watched from the audience, evaluating original music, professionalism and presentation while DRB played four original tunes from their first album “Smooth Sailing.”

On top of the $12,000 cash prize, DRB won $5,000 to spend on media and promotion, as well as studio time with Trouble Town Records in Toronto, one of The Bout’s sponsors.

“It’s such a good feeling to win,” said Gilhuly.  “Now we can get another CD out and get on the road more often.”

The band plans to spend the cash on a van and look for more gigs outside the immediate area.

Meanwhile, DRB has a number of local shows coming up.  They’ll be at Theatre 42 in Sarnia for Indie Night on May 25, Firefighters’ Field Days in Corunna June 7, and at the Hawg Bar on Christina Street on June 21.

The Arts Journal welcomes story suggestions that relate to Sarnia’s cultural life.  Send your ideas to cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca.