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An all-new Rising Stars music competition kicks off this weekend

After winning one of the finalist slots in 2014's Rising Stars Music Competition, Medford rock band The Evening Shades was forced to bow out when lead singer Mark Thales suffered from spontaneous pneumothorax — a collapsed lung — and landed in a local hospital to undergo surgery.

During his recovery, Thales wasn't certain he'd sing again.

"I was devastated," he says. "I thought all my dreams were going down. But I was lucky. I was singing within a month, though full recovery took about a year. Now I'm back, and I feel better than ever."

Thales and The Evening Shades — Sammy Kovic on guitar, drummer Justen Nielson and Matt Tayvis on bass — have been invited back to South Stage Cellars to compete in the 2015 Rising Stars, performing beside an all-new lineup of soloists, duos and trios from around the Northwest. 

The competition kicks off at 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, at Redmen Hall, 110 S. Third St., Jacksonville. Semifinals are each Saturday through March 21. New this year is a $10 ticket for each event, which can be purchased at South Stage Cellars, Music Coop in Ashland or by calling 541-899-9120. The final round is set for March 28 and will be presented indoors at Britt Pavilion, 350 First St. Tickets cost $12 and can be purchased at Britt's box office, 216 W. Main St., Medford, at South Stage Cellars or by calling 541-773-6077 or 541-899-9120. The Feb. 28 show is sold out.

"Rising Stars is becoming more of a Jacksonville event than a South Stage Cellars event," says Porscha Schiller, marketing and tasting room manager. The event is now in its fourth year. Britt Festivals became involved the second year, providing sound equipment and hosting the finals. This year, local bands The Rogue Suspects and L.E.F.T. will lend sound equipment for the semifinals. Sound engineering will be provided by Martin Oliver.

Another new slant to Rising Stars, a panel of judges will select winners in the semifinals, though audiences can purchase votes for $5. Purchased votes count as one-third of the total vote. John Brenes of Music Coop and Laurie Heuston, arts and entertainment editor at the Mail Tribune, will judge the four semifinals, joined by musician Jeff Pevar on Feb. 28, L.A.-based, Grammy-winning music producer Marylata Elton on March 4, musician Greg Frederick on March 14, and Britt Festivals' President Donna Briggs on March 21. Audience members can purchase votes to select the Rising Stars' 2015 winner at the final round.

The winner will receive $1,000, recording time with a professional engineer at Blackstone Audio, a summer gig at Britt's Table Rock City Stage, and gigs at five venues of the Jacksonville Winery Association.

Medford singer and songwriter Mikaela Gomberg, Klamath Falls trio Cherry Wine and The Evening Shades will vie for a finalists' slot Feb. 28. Gomberg covers pop songs by such artists as Rihanna, Ed Sheeran and rock band Fall Out Boy. Watch Tempo to find out who will compete in the remaining semifinals.

Cherry Wine — Michael Quinn on lead guitar and vocals, Eric Moore on bass and Phil Moore on lead guitar — play music that ranges through American pop. Songwriter Quinn's country song, "Where Do We Go From Here," went to No. 4 in Canada on the Country Music Association's chart and No. 5 in Australia. He also had a song go to No. 11 on the Top 100 of Great Country Radio in Nashville.

The Evening Shades has spent the better part of the past year recording in Kovic's Medford-based studio and working on its lineup. Drummer Nielson is a new member of the alt-rock group, having moved back to the Rogue Valley after working with a rock band in Los Angeles. 

"Sam has a lot of experience with sound production and recording," Thales says. "He brought our sound up a notch and brought out the talent that is here. He has a great ear, and he's helped us pull it all together. We like a high-energy sound that's on the positive side for the most part. We're not an in-your-face metal band that's all about death and doom, more about having a good time with friends."

Thales and Tayvis are the principal songwriters, with enough material to release a full-length album in April. 

"We've come far since last year, and our sound is big," Thales says. "We like what we're doing, and we're feeling confident. Winning isn't a big factor. It's all for a good cause. We just want to show everyone what we're doing. We're ready to come back full force. I think we're going to put on a helluva show."

Proceeds from 2015 Risings Stars will benefit Life ART, a nonprofit organization that provides creative outlets for teens challenged by peer pressure, depression, bullying and suicide. An exhibit of art created by such teens will be displayed at Redmen Hall during the semifinals.

Left to right: Sammy Kovic, Justen Nielsen, Markus Thales and Matthew Tayvis are The Evening Shades. Photo courtesy of Mikell Louise