Sonic Spotlight: The New Wave of Local Music

Sonic Spotlight is held annually to showcase local music talent and give them helpful prizes to create music as a career. This year’s final show was held at Washington’s.


Jane Godfrey

Through KCSU, I had the amazing opportunity to watch the third round of Fort Collins’ Sonic Spotlight competition in mid-December, and even interview some of the artists!

Sonic Spotlight is a competition based in Fort Collins put on by the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, Colorado Sound and the Bohemian Foundation. The third round of the competition took place in person at Washington’s, with live performances put on by three finalists and two other competitors. Of the five groups that performed, I had the opportunity to speak to three.

The first band I spoke with was Clementine, a rock quintet based out of Fort Collins. With all members between 18 and 19 years old, they were the winner of the listener’s choice award in the previous round. Of the five, I spoke with three of them – lead guitarist Keiran Wisell, backing vocalist and guitarist Samuel Claiborne, and drummer Caleb Crowe. The group had fantastic energy, all joking around with each other and me. They had all been friends for a while – Sam and Keiran started playing guitar together in eighth grade, adding Caleb in high school. Their group started originally with these three, later expanding to include bass player Elizabeth Radman and lead vocalist Larin Graff, who writes most of the lyrics.

One of the members said writing was “his (Larin’s) way of communicating”, and that he was more likely to sing his emotions than speak them. When asked to describe their sound, one of the members joked that they were “if Nirvana was worse, and sounded like the Smashing Pumpkins”. Some other inspirations they mentioned were Green Day, Title Fight, Origami Angel and Iron Maiden – when I went to the green room, Keiran was finishing up a game on the Iron Maiden pinball machine, later joining the interview proud to announce he’d gotten a high score. Sam told me he had actually gotten to play guitar with Green Day on stage at a concert when he was 17 years old. I asked them what differentiates them from other bands, and their response was the energy they brought to their concerts.

When I was interviewing them I didn’t understand it yet, but when I saw them perform, I saw that the energy they brought was true. Their set, consisting of only three songs, was absolutely intoxicating. The crowd was dancing and moshing, and some of Clementine’s fans were singing along. Clementine put on the best performance with my favorite original music and my personal favorite of the night. I am looking forward to seeing them live again soon!

I also got to speak with Forrest Nelson, a local hyperpop sensation in the Fort Collins scene. He told me his biggest musical inspirations are 100 gecs and Bladee, influences which I definitely can see translate through his music. He said he had always wanted to get into music, making beats with friends and rapping over them in his past. Later, he discovered auto-tune, which he really enjoyed, and now loves experimenting with sound and making “weird stuff sound cool”.

During our interview, I discovered he was also a hardcore Radiohead fan and we sidetracked into a quick argument over which album was their best (his favorite is Kid A; mine is In Rainbows – about which he commented “that’s everyone’s”). I found him to be very personable and down to earth. He expressed his gratitude to his family for being so supportive. This was something I saw firsthand at a different show he played at last month, where his mother took the mic to say how proud she was. He said it was “reassuring that they’re so happy for me that I’m following a dream I’ve had forever”.

When discussing Sonic Spotlight, he confessed he “didn’t expect such a sense of community through Sonic Spotlight… made friends through it, connections, and even made music with another member”. He was the opener of the evening, and delivered a fun, fresh set, finishing with a hyperpop rendition of “Last Christmas” by Wham!, which the audience especially enjoyed.

The last finalist in the competition I had the opportunity to speak with was Hospital Socks. Their band consists of five members, all between the ages of 21 and 22: guitarist Miles Stevenson, guitarist and vocalist April Crews, bassist Gabe Brady, and drummer Aaron Plusa. They told me they had been playing together for 15 months, have put out an EP and a single so far, and look forward to publishing more!

In terms of writing their music, Gabe said they get their main structure from the bass, and then move on from there to the rest of the musical structure and lyrics. When I asked them to describe their sound, Miles said it “can be harsh and emotional, but we’re often described as emo, midwest-emo, post-hardcore and punk. April artistically answered, “our sound is aggressive, dynamic and at times beautiful” (Can you tell that April is the lyricist?).

When I had the opportunity to watch them play, their sound was just how they described it. I was not only impressed by the musical ability of the band members, but also by April’s ability to deliver lyrics in a masterfully technical yet emotionally vulnerable way that was quite moving.

Everyone I spoke to was so kind and bubbly, and it seemed like they could not stop complimenting the other bands, even when they were not around to hear it. Sonic Spotlight, from what I saw, had the perfect balance of competition while still being a very positive and encouraging environment for the performers. Watching these musicians in my age-range play together and getting to speak with them was really a fantastic experience.

This year’s winner was Fiona Sofia, an indie pop solo singer with a sparkly personality.

For more information on all the artists from the final show, check out their Spotify pages!

Fiona Sofia – finalist and winner

Hospital Socks – finalist

Hygeia – finalist

Clementine – listener’s choice winner & finalist performer

Forrest Nelson – finalist performer

More information on Sonic Spotlight can be found here.
Written and photographed by Jane Godfrey.