McKenzies Mill Wins Competition
BY KATHERINE SMITH
Special to The Pilot
McKenzies Mill Road is a hazy gray mile-and-a-half of road in West End - double yellow lines pegged by shrubs and pine trees.
Brothers Justin and Ryan Harris grew up just off the road, and eight years ago, they decided to make a band out of what Ryan Harris calls "living room-couch music."
The brothers named the band McKenzies Mill.
"It is exactly like the road sign," Ryan Harris says.
Both absent of an apostrophe and a place that could represent anywhere in Southern America.
The brothers recently won Bud Light's 2012 Battle of the Bands music contest, proof of their music's ability to relate to the South.
As a result, the -brothers will be -playing during the Nov. 16-19 Port Paradise Music Festival.
Two full-size cruise liners will host 5,000 winners and thousands of gallons of Bud Light. The liners will leave from Port Canaveral and Miami with the -destination of Paradise Island, Bahamas.
Saturday and Sunday's music festival will offer "Bud Light fans a once-in-a-lifetime experience that combines amazing musical acts and an unmatched setting for a party like no other," says Mike Sundet, vice president of Bud Light.
McKenzies Mill is one of three bands that won the Battle of the Bands contest, all three of which will be playing on Saturday, Nov. 17.
The three bands will open for massive pop stars Pitbull, Far East Movement and Flo Rida at Atlantis in Nassau.
On Sunday, Nov. 18, Brad Paisley will headline with Young the Giant and The All-American Rejects at the private island of Coco Cay.
"It's this big mix of all different kinds of music," Ryan Harris says. "We don't play the same music as the bands we're opening for. But we're not your run-of-the-mill -country band, and we hope that our raw energy will translate to the crowd."
McKenzies Mill, The Bergamot and Makayla Duvall were the three chosen winners of the 24 finalists.
During the contest, all 24 finalists were given a $500 stipend to play at one of several major U.S. cities, and had their chosen song put on video.
In the contest, McKenzies Mill played "Dirty Things," their most popular and shameless song, in Nashville. The song was co-written by Tony Barnes, one of their original members.
The Bergamot is a self-described band of "Indiana farm boys and girl." They played "It's Gonna Be Me," a lively song that blends with their welcoming music, on stage in Detroit.
Makayla Duvall is a solo artist who sings with a massive voice. She sang "Gone" in Miami.
The videos of their songs were posted on Bud Light's website, and from June 19 to July 3, fans could vote once a day for their favorite video. Officials then confirmed the votes, but did not notify winners until the beginning of October.
"We rallied the troops," Ryan Harris says. "On behalf of Justin and myself, we want to thank everybody back home. They know how passionate we are about chasing this dream. They stood behind us, and that drives us and we're going to keep growing this thing."
The brothers started playing country when Ryan would visit Justin at East Carolina University. But the indistinguishable sound was electrified by "this different energy," Ryan Harris says, when the two started playing live.
He says this was their Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers beginnings leaking out. Their studded rock-star presence has been indisputable since then.
But the motive of their music is also indisputable.
Their father, Ricky Harris, says, "The most important thing is that when we go to Nashville, or when we go anywhere where our children have been, what is the first thing out of people's mouths?"
Their mother, Sherilyn, answers, "How polite they are."
Ricky Harris played guitar and Sherilyn played the piano, creating a childhood that Ryan Harris says "supported" the brothers.
During their start, the brothers frequently played acoustic nights at May Street Market. Their first late night show was at O'Donnell's Pub in downtown Southern Pines.
"The first show, a lot of folks came out," Ryan Harris says. "We were always received really well."
It was the local support and "belief in what we were doing" he says, that drove them to Nashville in 2005. He says the unforgiving music environment was "very eye-opening."
"We took a chance, and we're finally starting to get a tip of the hat from the industry," he says. "Winning this contest will associate us with a well-liked name. It's extra wind in the sails."
Last year, the brothers won the Wildhorse Saloon's "Battle for the Saddle" band search contest in Nashville. They received a $2,500 cash prize, in-house shows and boosted promotion.
They have toured the Southeast, and are currently involved in MGM Grand's Gold Belt Buckle Battle of the Bands. The winner will join Brad DuVall and Western Justice as house bands for 10 days of national rodeo finals. The rodeo finals will be held at the Crown Royal Gold Buckle Zone at the MGM Grand Las Vegas from Dec. 6-15.
Ryan Harris says their success is based on simplicity and honesty. Their songs stem from "family experiences and life lessons."
They have produced two albums and have another in the works. "One Hell of a Ride" was produced in 2007 and "McKenzies Mill" was produced in 2010.
"And we're just dipping our toes into another album too," Ryan Harris says.
Justin Harris wrote the song "God Bless the Southern Man" about their father.
The chorus says, "God bless the Southern man, he's doing the best he can. He's working hard trying to make ends meet to keep shoes on his little boys' feet. He works hard, he prays harder, but still knows when he oughtta be proud and take his stand. God bless the Southern man."
"He is a consistently hard-working and loving man," Ryan Harris says of their dad.
The chorus of "It's All Gonna Turn Around" says, "I've been down and I've been out, sometimes I swear that it's gonna count. There's so many things just trying to bring me down. But it's all gonna turn around."
"It was driven by real life experiences and by really hard times," Ryan Harris says.
"My Heaven is a Small Town" is a song the brothers encountered in Nashville.
"It was just a perfect song to fit our town," Ryan Harris says. "But you don't have to be from a small town to relate to our music. We're country boys, but when we're on stage we've got rock 'n' roll energy."
And the brothers' ricochet from small town to big industry still brings them back home.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't miss my hometown," Ryan Harris says.
And on Dec. 31, they are coming back to play again at O'Donnell's Pub.
"There's no better way to end one year and begin another," Harris says.
Katherine Smith, a former Pilot intern, is a student at Appalachian State University.
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