With Halestorm, people just knew.
John Harris identified siblings Elizabeth and Arejay Hale as music prodigies nearly two decades ago. At the time, they were in middle school and part of a family band with their parents. Along with other aspiring musicians, the band attended the first Millennium Music Conference - a midstate event Harris helped conceive in the mid '90s.
Both the Hales and Millennium Music Conference - MMC - have achieved heights unfathomable back then.
Elizabeth, now Lzzy, and Arejay formed the band Halestorm in Red Lion, signed with Atlantic Records and, late last year, received its first Grammy nomination. The band will attend the ceremony Sunday night in Los Angeles.
The first MMC was held in northern York County - at the Best Western in Fairview Township. Harris said he practically begged about 10 bands to play. Back then, the event was devoted to rock. At the time, hard rock groups based near the midstate, including Fuel and Breaking Benjamin, were getting national attention.
On Feb. 14, MMC will kick off its 17th year. It's become one of the largest music industry events in the region, comprising dozens of industry panels and showcase events across the Harrisburg area. About 300 acts participate. A third are singer/songwriters. Hip-hop is now well-represented. And rock and hard rock still command a large portion of the lineup.
There have been many memorable performances and artists at MMC, but even in their tweens, the Hales stood out.
"You could tell early on that she was the spark," Harris said of Lzzy.
The group kept coming back to MMC and attended similar events in Delaware. That's how the Hales met a Philadelphia producer, who also saw their potential.
David Ivory has been involved in the Philly music scene for about two decades.
As a producer and engineer at Ivory Productions in Gwynedd Valley, his work with Erykah Badu and The Roots has received Grammy recognition.
He helps develop artists to get them to the next level, which usually includes working on their music and image and setting up meetings with record labels. He scouted new talent at music conferences, which is how he saw Halestorm about 10 years ago.
The band blew him away.
"What impressed me the most was (that) they played 260 gigs in one year," Ivory said. "(Lzzy's) work ethic was off the charts. She had a lot of really good raw talent. We basically embarked on six months of writing songs and working on them."
His business partner Joe Lam also had a key role in the band's songwriting. Ivory auditioned musicians to join singer Lzzy and drummer Arejay, who were performing as a duo at the time. Eventually, Ivory found Joe Hottinger for guitar and Josh Smith for bass.
The band gelled and got better, Ivory said. It kept up its hefty performance schedule. But a big break didn't come.
"It took years," Ivory said. "We got turned down from lots of labels."
The fact that Lzzy was one of the only female hard rock singers at the time was both a help and hindrance. She captured people's attention, but some reps weren't willing to take a chance on something different.
A 2004 showcase in New York City helped connect Halestorm to the right people, Ivory said. Through a series of introductions, the band met a rep from Atlantic Records and inked a deal in 2005.
From there, the group was in the label's care and Ivory's work was done. But he kept in touch and saw the band earlier this year.
"She is still very humble and has a great work ethic," Ivory said of Lzzy. "The band is solid."
Two yeas ago, Halestorm came back to perform and give a keynote address at MMC.
Harris said they stayed in the same hotel as most of the other attendees.
"They told their story," he said. "They sat on stage and took questions."
Halestorm used to be among the kids in the crowd.
And even though they could have been performing at a large arena that weekend, they were at MMC.
Since the band signed with Atlantic, Halestorm had been back to play regional shows in Hershey or at Lancaster's Chameleon Club. But with its Grammy nomination for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance - announced in December - the group has outgrown those venues. Its regional shows around the New Year in Philly and Baltimore sold out quickly.
"This isn't something that happened overnight," Harris said. "They have been working up to this and building up to this. I don't think they view that fame shaped them. They learned early on that it's a business."
And even with its nomination, the band still hasn't reached the level of fame to appear on the live Grammys telecast. The hard rock/metal award will likely be handed out Sunday afternoon.
"You almost have to cross over to pop to get on the Grammys," Harris said.
As president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences' Philadelphia Chapter - one of 12 Grammy chapters in the country - Ivory traveled to Los Angeles for the festivities this weekend.
He said he expects Halestorm will earn crossover appeal and appear on the Grammy telecast in the near future.
This year, he likes the group's odds of taking home the golden gramophone despite being up against genre heavyweights.
"I think they have a great chance because it's new and fresh," Ivory said. "(Lzzy) is the only female in the lineup. I expect her to win."
Music industry changes in the time of Halestorm
John Harris jokes that he's been embedded in Central Pennsylvania's music scene since he "took a wrong turn" and got into the industry.
Originally from the Philadelphia area, Harris moved west to pursue politics but found a musical hotspot instead.
He said York native Buddy King, of the blue-eyed soul band The Magnificent Men, put the area on the musical map years earlier. Harris managed hard rock band KIX, which formed in the late '70s just south of the Pennsylvania border in Maryland. In the early '80s, Poison broke out in Mechanicsburg.
Around that time, Harris met the guys in Public Affection when they were students at York's William Penn Senior High School. A few years later, the group renamed itself Live and went on to multiplatinum albums and world tours during the '90s.
"York, especially, is a metal-head haven," Harris said, adding that rock, southern rock, country and singer/songwriters also have big followings.
Before Harrisburg's City Island housed baseball and soccer stadiums, it was a concert venue that hosted Grateful Dead, Aerosmith, Metallica and other groups. Some locals remembered those days and urged Harris to start a music event.
The Millennium Music Conference - MMC - was his answer.
But around 2000 - just as the conference took off and Halestorm, a band with Red Lion roots, got going - the industry shifted. The formula, which helped bands form this region and beyond land fame and fortune, fell apart.
The Internet and the advent of digital music caused record sales to wane and record companies to lose cache - although artists, including Halestorm, still found success using the old industry formula.
Now, Harris said, big corporations, including Clear Channel Communications and Live Nation, run the game. But the new paradigm has also allowed independent artists moderate success producing their own records and tours.
"The band is a small business," Harris said.
Music producer and engineer David Ivory has also seen his end of the industry change. Even a few years ago, many producers took on bands. But as singing bonuses have waned, there is little incentive to develop talent anymore.
"Right now, bands are becoming their own labels," he said, adding that groups now seek him out. "That's why it's more important that bands do the best music they can. They are competing with labels almost on their own."
And that formula is working for some bands, including the York County rock outfit Kingsfoil, which played MMC a few years ago. The group has yet to sign a record deal, but has garnered a large regional following.
Social media and multimedia, including videos, are a big part of the equation.
Harris said he sees lots of talent coming out of the region. And, by posting band videos online and offering topical panels, he hopes MMC can help bands navigate a digital world and music industry where the next big thing sounds stale within a few weeks.
"You have to struggle to stay relevant," he said.
Millennium Music Conference
The 17th annual event runs Feb. 14 to Feb. 17 at the Radisson Hotel and Convention Center, 1150 Camp Hill Bypass, Camp Hill. Registration for the conference is $100. Music showcases are slated at 30 venues in and around Harrisburg. Most venues are 21 and older and offer free entry. There are small cover charges at some venues.
There are two large showcase events at the Radisson Friday and Saturday. Entry to each is $15 or free with MMC credentials.
For MMC details and passes, visit www.musicconference.net
York County bands slated to perform at various showcases include Carving Out Fiction, Funkbot, The Nineties, Small Town Titans, Apollo's Sun, The Shappell Show, B-Tropical, Brenden Starr, Redwud, Arioc, DiDi Deluxe and The Dirty Devils, Katy Glorioso, Fattore, Brian Thomas Jackson and Dani Hoy.
Read interviews with some of the acts at flipsidepa.com/musicdirectory.
Revolver Golden Gods Awards
Halestorm is up for awards in four categories at the Revolver Golden Gods Awards: Best Dummer, Best Vocalist, Song of the Year and Album of the Year. Fans can vote for their favorite artists, songs and albums through 11:59 p.m. April 15.
The Revolver Golden Gods 5th Anniversary Show is slated for May 2 in Los Angeles. Halestorm will be one of the performers in addition to Metallica, Anthrax and Five Finger Death Punch. The event will be broadcast live through AXS TV and via Facebook.
For details and to vote, visit www.revolvermag.com/goldengods2013.
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