Tag Archives: Mary Noren

Local country band plays Nashville

Photo: Back Country Roads, a local country music band with members from throughout the Kaneland area, recently performed in Nashville as part of a country music contest. Courtesy Photo

by Susan O’Neill
Nashville—Back Country Roads, a local band in the Kaneland area that describes its music as “the big sounds of Nashville (brought) home to the Midwest,” recently brought their sound to Nashville. The band was invited to play at the Wildhorse Saloon, a three-level, 66,000 square-foot live music and dance venue.

Singer Mary Noren and guitar player Brian Miller had gone to “the Music City” several weeks earlier and dropped off electronic press kits at a few places there. The Wildhorse Saloon contacted them the following day to invite the band to participate in a “Battle for the Saddle” competition on April 25.

Each band played five songs for a panel of three judges, among whom was Michael Knox, Jason Aldean’s producer. Although the band performed well, they did not win the contest, bass player Dave Miller said.

“The experience, however, was well worth the trip,” Dave said. “It was an awesome experience to be on a stage playing to 800 to 1,000 people.”

Kaneville resident and one of the newest members of the band, keyboard player Dan Alfrey described the experience as a “whirl-wind trip,” one day down, one day to play, and the third day, back home.
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“It was humbling, playing in such a large place in a town that is known for its music,” he said.

Approximately 30 to 40 people from the area traveled to Nashville to hear them play. Maple Park resident Kim Goodenough, a friend of vocalist Kyle Miller’s parents, drove them back and forth in her family’s 40-foot motor home.

“The kids are exceptional,” Goodenough said. “They play so well together. They were the only band that had people out on the floor dancing.”

Back Country Roads, also known as BCR, originated in 2009. Kyle and Noren, students together at Northern Illinois University, began singing Karaoke in some of the bars in DeKalb. Their friend Brian Miller soon joined them on acoustic guitar. The band’s first gig was for the Maple Park Fire District Women’s Auxiliary at the Maple Park Pub.

They played a few shows as an acoustic trio, but decided they wanted a bigger sound. They added Jarred Klotz on drums and Dave Miller, Kyle’s great-uncle, on bass guitar.

Soon, they were playing at various festivals and events throughout northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, including the Maple Park Fun Fest, Kaneville Fest, as well as Country Thunder USA in Twin Lakes, Wis. They added Hanna Mathey on fiddle and Dan Alfrey on keyboards. John Von Arx joined the group later on lead guitar.

The band plays mainly newer country music, such as Lady Antebellum, Sugarland, Zach Brown Band and Jason Aldean, as well as some of the older favorites, such as Alabama and Johnny Cash, Dave said. They have a loyal following and have opened for bands such as Phil Vassar, David Lee Murphy and Darryl Worley.

More recently, they have begun writing their own music, and have their first single, called “Wake Up This Day.” They are hoping to get the song played on local stations.

“We want to be a band that other people cover,” Dave said.

BCR will perform at Country Thunder USA this summer for their third consecutive year and will open for Neal McCoy at DeKalb’s Corn Fest. They will also play at Elburn Days and the Maple Park Fun Fest.

For more information and a schedule for Back Country Roads, visit backcountryroadsband.com, ‘Back Country Roads’ page on Facebook or download their free Droid/iPhone app ‘Back Country Roads.’

CMT says: They can duet

by Lynn Meredith
When singing duo Mary Noren and Kyle Miller of Maple Park heard that Country Music Television (CMT) was holding auditions for its American Idol-type show, “Can You Duet?” they decided to take a shot. Noren and Miller not only went to the audition, but they showed that they can duet (do it). They made it to round two before being cut from the competition.

“We heard about the auditions on the website and thought, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,'” Kaneland alumnus Miller said. “It was last minute.”

The two Northern Illinois students had enough encouragement from friends and family who had heard them sing together to make the eight-and-a-half hour drive to Nashville. The auditions were held by CMT and the producers of “American Idol” to find the next great country music duo.

“It was the possibility of getting it,” Noren said. “Everybody told us we had a good sound and were unique.”
A month before, they had submitted a video of themselves performing, but the pair is almost sure no one saw it before the audition.

“We got to the Wild Horse Saloon at 7:30 (a.m.), and there were 2,000 people in line ahead of us,” Miller said.

In total, there were close to 5,000 people who came to Nashville that morning to get noticed by the judges. Miller and Noren beat out all but 150 by the time they were selected for the second round.

The crowd was divided into groups of 12 couples, sent to different rooms where judges from CMT gave each duet just 30 seconds to make the grade. The Noren and Miller duet was the only one from their group to be selected for the second round.

“I was soaring after making it past the first round,” Noren said.

As the pair waited out in the hallway for the start of the second round, they could hear other duets singing.

“Nobody really told us what we were doing (next). We didn’t know until we went into the booth,” Miller said.

They were ushered into a curtained-off booth where they saw one judge, two production engineers, and two other people sitting at a table. This round, the pair was asked to sing a song from start to finish. They sang “Looking for a Good Time” by Lady Antebellum. Then they were asked to sing another.

“You’re in line all day and then you just have 30 seconds. To make it to the second round made it feel worth it. We got to sing a couple more songs,” Miller said.

Noren was asked by the judges to sing a Carrie Underwood song.

“They heard us for our harmony. Then they were interested in hearing what range I had. I had put on the paperwork that one of my strengths as a musician was my range, and they wanted to hear more of that,” Noren said.

The pair was unique in a couple of ways. First off, most of the couples they encountered were from the Nashville area or surrounding states. Most were surprised that Noren and Miller had driven so far. Also, most of the couples had one partner who played the guitar.

“We did ours completely a cappella,” Miller said.

The performance was videotaped by CMT. The producers said they would review the tape and notify the duo by phone if they made it to the third round held the following weekend.

“I think it was narrowed down to 50 for round three,” Miller said. “They have two days of workshops with 12 pairs on the first day and 13 on the second.”

Even though the pair did not make it to the third round, they don’t regret anything.

“It was a lot of fun doing it. Everybody was really nice,” Miller said.

Now that they have a taste of performing, they plan to continue. They are working with a guitarist, and plan to expand into a band and look for bookings in the DeKalb area. They intend to stick with the country rock sound.

When they reflect on the experience of going to Nashville and putting their talents forward, they see how far they came.

“We said it would be okay if we didn’t make it past 30 seconds,” Noren said. “But after going through it, we would have been really bummed (if we didn’t make it to round two).”