From almost the moment it formed, the Natalie Turgeon Band has been the musical equivalent of a show pony, playing in competitions — and doing quite well.
As a vocalist, Turgeon won last year’s New Hampshire Country Music Association contest, then finished first in the New England regional round and went on to compete for the international prize in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Last month, her band made it to the state finals in the Texaco Country Showdown; before that, the quartet‘s first single, “Country-ish” — a title Turgeon says neatly sums up their style — earned it a trip to Austin, Texas, for the last round of Dodge Ram’s national Battle of the Bands.
The trade-off for all the accolades is a lot of two- and three-song sets; now the band is ready to stretch out and show its depth. “We haven’t had an official gig, so we really haven’t had time to perfect the sound,” said Turgeon recently, though emphasizing that her band has learned a great deal from its many battles. “Contests always make you push yourself to do better.”
She’s now Natalie Cunningham, married in June to the son of lead guitarist/songwriter John Cunningham, but continues to use her maiden name as a performer. As she talked, the group prepared for its July 30 “debut” at the Lodge in Belmont.
“I think this show will show a little bit more versatility,” she said. “We’re excited to be able to show people what we’ve been practicing for so long, not just a piece of us. It’s our night.”
On Friday, Aug. 12, they play an outdoor show in Island Pond, Vet., followed by two sets at the Belknap County Fair on Aug. 14.
“I really enjoy country fairs because you get a lot of different people and it’s a lot of exposure, so we’re excited about that,” Turgeon says.
The Natalie Turgeon Band came together last October. After Turgeon’s success with the NHCMA, Cunningham suggested they start a group. A Craigslist ad found drummer Chris Shrader, bass player Daniel Latimer and rhythm guitarist/vocalist Justin Need. The five quickly found their sound.
“My band and I really mesh,” Turgeon says. “I’ve been in other bands before but this is the best. It’s not just business; it’s fun.”
Turgeon wrote “Country-ish” with Cunningham and Schrader. Recently, she and Cunningham completed a ballad, “Hallowed Ground,” in time for her to sing for her new husband at their wedding. “It was really emotional, but it came together,” Turgeon says of the experience. “I did get choked up, but I was able to clear my throat and keep going.”
One thing she’s learned in the band’s short life is that Cunningham is a prolific songwriter. “He has three songs that are in the building stage right now and he actually has one done,” Turgeon says. “So definitely we are getting new songs out there and plan to put some more together — because original is where it’s at. It’s always nice to hear a cover band, but our goal is to be different.”
That’s not to say they are averse to playing other people’s material. A rocked-up version of Reba’s “Turn On Your Radio” done for the Community Audition television show at Hampton Beach’s Casino Ballroom last May was a big success. “We filmed four episodes, and each time we took Star of the Day,” she says of the New England-wide competition, which concludes at Foxwoods Casino in October.
The band hopes to make a five-song demo soon, if for no other reason than to be able to give begging fans something to take home after their shows. “It’s huge, because when people hear you and like you, they ask [for] a CD,” she says. “So that is our biggest goal right now.” A Community Audition win would help that process in a big way — the top prize is a CD recording session. Failing that, guitarist Need may have a line on a studio.
How it happens is less important than doing it.
“We’ll record in the basement — that’s how we did ‘Country-ish,’” Turgeon says. “Really, the idea is just getting ourselves out there and beyond New England. It can be tiring but it’s worth it. My mission in life is to show people what God has given me, and I feel really blessed — as a band and as an individual.”