The event was held Friday at the historic Yost Theater in Santa Ana, able to seat up to 800 fans as opposed to last year’s show at the Gypsy Den, which holds a capacity of less than 100.
But the large venue didn’t intimidate the opening band, I Hate You Just Kidding, who opened with a sweet and intimate set. The Costa Mesa couple that makes up the band, guitarist Jeremy Brock and singer Jessi Fulghum, playfully and humbly talked to one another and the audience throughout their set, adding to the band’s warm atmosphere.
Little things like a toy glockenspiel, an occasional harmonica harmony and a snare drum beat with one stick quickly built an endearing rapport with the audience as well.
“It seemed like everybody really liked it, so we’re happy about that and we did our best,” Fulghum said, “We just want for more people to have heard of us.”
Friday night’s contest winner, Billy Kernkamp, took the stage next with a guest guitarist before bringing out the whole band.
The stage grew more and more crowded throughout the set, growing from only two musicians to six, then 10, finally ending the set with 11 band members and fans on stage, all singing and having a great time.
“Thank you so much to the Orange County Music Awards for bringing us all together and supporting each other,” Kernkamp said during his set. “I want you to remember, it’s not about us, it’s about you guys coming out and supporting. You guys’ coming out is why we do this.”
The alternative country singer/songwriter was nominated for Country Americana last year as well, but did not progress. Friday night Kernkamp and his band were No. 1.
“I feel great, I love it,” Kernkamp said before being announced as the evening’s winner. “It’s not about awards. The validation comes from when my mom tells me I did good.”
Following Kernkamp, Stacy Clark overcame minor equipment malfunctions to present a Katy Perry/Avril Lavigne fusion.
Clark’s strongest songs, including “Touch and Go” as featured in the latest Bell Palm Pre commercial, were those when her guitar was laid down and she let her hips sway.
Marc B followed with his toe tapping surf/reggae songs as the audience continued to build. Bassist Yoni Berk was especially enjoyable to watch, hitting the groove hard and infecting the audience with what can only be described as “boogie.”
Mike Vitale took the stage alone next, closing the night with endearing songs and a humorous rapport with the audience.
Vitale performed with enthusiasm and a smile on his face, utilizing loop pedals and audience chants to close out the night.
OC Music Awards director of events and marketing Ashley Eckenweiler couldn’t have been happier at Friday night’s turnout.
“This is our largest turnout for the best live acoustic finals yet,” Eckenweiler said in an interview between sets. “This year has had the largest turnout at every showcase we’ve had. I think the best bands have been involved and we have great sponsors this year as well.”
At the end of the night, OC Music Awards producer Luke Allen took the stage, armed with a giant check and a Red Bull recording certificate.
Finally, and without overbearing suspense, Allen announced Kernkamp as the evening’s winner.
“I know it’s not cool to be excited about these things, but I’m really pumped guys,” Kernkamp said into the mic while accepting his prize. “I know I say this all the time, but we are here to serve you. We do this because of you.”