WESTERLY — Westerly’s Will Evans is headed back to Hollywood.
On Tuesday, Evans, a popular local roots-rock musician, will take the stage at the famed Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard as one of five finalists in Next2Rock, a national grass-roots talent search for “America’s newest rock star.”
”I’m humbled and grateful for the opportunity,” said Evans, who lives in Westerly with his wife, Emily Conley, a physical therapist, and their dog, Ellie. “It’s a good opportunity to get in front of some industry people, and hopefully I’ll come home with a record deal.”
Evans, who received national exposure as the drummer and lead vocalist for the band Barefoot Truth and has earned a reputation among his fans and fellow musicians for being genuine and kind-hearted, was one of 10 finalists in Guitar Center's Singer-Songwriter III competition at the Hotel Café in Los Angeles a few years back. And while he didn’t win the top prize, Evans, who had been selected from tens of thousands of entrants in the contest, said he was happy to have made it to the final round.
This time, the Mystic native, whose music has been described as “Jack Johnson-ish,” will go up against musicians from Chicago, Kansas City, Mo., Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Los Angeles for the top prize — a record deal with Big Machine/John Varvatos Records. The CEO of Big Machine is Scott Borchetta, the record executive credited with discovering another musician with a local connection — Taylor Swift.
Borchetta will serve as one of the judges of Tuesday’s competition, along with a panel of other music-industry professionals, including Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale; fashion designer and record-label head John Varvatos; Sex Pistols guitarist and “Jonesy’s Jukebox” host Steve Jones; musician, songwriter and producer Desmond Child; and engineer/mixer Chris Lord-Alge.
Music writer John Adamian has described Evans as being “part of a tradition that extends from Cat Stevens to James Blunt.”
“Mellow threads of reggae, hip-hop, soul, light funk, gospel and other genres show up on these mild folk-gumbo tunes,” Adamian said.
Jessica Vargas, who manages the New London market for Cumulus competition which is co-sponsored by The Social Kitchen+Bar in New London, said the company was thrilled that Evans was chosen to represent the region.
“Will is an extremely talented individual, and we can’t wait to see him play at the Viper Room in front of some of the biggest names in the rock music industry,” she said.
Vargas said the Westerly-based 102.3 the Wolf is the radio sponsor of the competiton.
“The artists who entered this year’s Next2Rock competition are incredibly talented,” said Mike McVay, executive vice president of content and programming for Cumulus Media and Westwood One, in a prepared statement. “Given this type of talent, we are extremely excited for the future of rock music. Any one of these artists could win and any one of these artists could be the next rock superstar — that’s what this competition is all about!”
In addition to the record deal, McVay said, the contest winner will receive “substantial exposure, commensurate with a major-label release, on Cumulus radio stations nationwide.”
Evans, who performed in the first round of the contest The Social Kitchen+Bar in New London, was ultimately chosen for the finals from a group of more than 1,800 musicians across the country.
“I was the only one from Rhode Island,” said Evans, who is also known for his support of environmental awareness events and his songs’ socially-conscious messages of love and inclusion.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, Evans returned to the Knickerbocker Music Center for his annual “Make a Little Change” benefit concert with his band and played to a packed house. Before the concert, members of the Rhode Island chapter of the Surfriders Foundation premiered a new surf film and a speaker from the New England Science and Sailing Foundation in Stonington gave a talk about plastics in local waterways.
The following day, Evans said, he and a group of volunteers headed to the shoreline and picked up bags and bags of trash from the beach and along Weekapaug Breachway.
In September, Savoy Bookshop and Café hosted Evans at the shop’s first “Live at Savoy” concert series. Savoy events coordinator Elissa Englund-Sweet said the concert sold out almost immediately.
“Will is an amazing musician and a fabulous performer,” said Englund-Sweet. “We are so excited for him.”
The session was recorded, she added, and the shop is planning to have vinyl albums for sale soon.
Evans, whose solo album “Wishin' Well” earned him a debut at No. 4 on the Northeast Billboard charts in 2014, has been touring extensively the last few months, mostly around New England. When he takes the stage at the Viper Room Tuesday, he said he’ll most likely sing his newest composition, “Adam and Eve.”
“It feels ready,” said the singer Friday afternoon as he sat inside The Knick practicing and singing a few numbers.
Evans, who helped organize last summer’s daylong Folk Festival in Wilcox Park, said he knows one thing for sure: if he does win, the town of Westerly will win too. With all the good stuff happening in town, said the singer, it only makes sense to keep adding to it.
After all, he said, wouldn’t it be great to perform on the stage at the United Theatre, once the renovations are complete?
“You get big, you make big changes,” Evans said with a smile.
Tuesday’s competition, which will be hosted by Matt Pinfield of radio and TV fame, will be streamed live at www.next2rock.com beginning at 10:30 p.m. EST.