To paraphrase the ending to the pixelated 8-bt classic "Nintendo Pro Wrestling":
"Congratulations, Strung Like A Horse, a winner is you."
After musically clobbering their way through the semifinals, the self-styled "garage 'grass" quintet emerged victorious last Thursday during the McKay's Road to Nightfall finals.
Strung Like a Horse was the first group to perform at the first round of semifinals on March 14. Going on so early in the competition was nerve-wracking, but frontman Clay Maselle said the finals ended up being one of their best shows.
"Once we ... got onstage the final night, with the way the crowd was responding to us, it was perfect," he said Tuesday during a brief break from wading through swamp waters while filming a music video for their song "Gypsy Jane," with which they closed their set during the finals.
"It was like everyone had bought the CD ['Live at Lindsay Street'] and knew all the words," Maselle added. "That felt really good."
For winning, they received $1,000 and a headlining slot at Nightfall on Aug. 3, but they barely paused to celebrate before heading to another show in Wilmington Beach, N.C.
Despite brimming with energy and wearing wacky costumes -- Maselle took the stage at Rhythm & Brews in a tuxedo and top hat -- victory didn't come easily.
They faced off against female-fronted rock/alt-country band Long Gone Darlings, the big, big vocals of Amber Fults and The Ambivalent Lovers and the Brit-pop-influenced groove of singer/songwriter Ryan Oyers.
The stiff competition and move away from a popular-vote format made this year's battle even tougher, said organizer and Chattanooga Presents marketing and media director Jonathan Susman.
"It was up to the musicians to really come out and do their best," he said. "I know from talking to the judges that it was a tough decision for them, but in the end, Strung like A Horse brought a great show."
The runners-up didn't walk away empty-handed. Each of them is guaranteed an opening slot during this year's Nightfall schedule, which Susman said he recently finalized.
Although it's great to see Chattanooga artists recognized for contributing to the energy and variety that defines the local music scene, it's even more rewarding to see how much they support each other.
Susman and Maselle both said the atmosphere during the finals was congenial, with artists openly cheering for one another even as they gave it their all to come out on top. While there could only ever be one winner for Road to Nightfall (cue "Highlander" theme music), it's reassuring to know it evoked more backslapping than throat-cutting.
Then again, I suppose that's hardly shocking, considering Chattanooga is still a small town in so many ways. The music community here is tight-knit and supportive, and that's something I hope we never lose, no matter how big we get.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...