AIMING FOR THE TOP: Sarnia Country Blues band one of nine semi-finalist in Top of the Country Contest

by Tyler Kula

Country-blues musician Cory James Mitchell had just started playing Sarnia bars when Borderfest announced its first lineup last year.

“I remember thinking to myself it’d be great if somehow in the next five years or so I could weasel my way onto the bill,” said the Port Lambton-native.

“Then poof. Here it is next year,” he said. “I’m named one of the acts.”

Mitchell, 31, and his band – Mason Stewart (guitar), Kellan Lindsay (bass), Jacob Burton (drums), and Griffin (lead guitar), whose last name is a mystery, Mitchell said – are opening for Drake White at the Sarnia-Lambton music festival’s country night June 26 in Centennial Park.

There’s a lot more going on too for the band that only formed in February, he said.

Thursday, voting opened in the SiriusXM Top of the Country contest and Mitchell and company are one of nine semi-finalists in the running for a spot in a summer music festival, $25,000, and a spot in a songwriting camp with the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada.

Votes can be cast once per day at until June 6, where people can check out a video recorded in March for the band’s song “Drove.”

“I’m feeling good. I’m feeling confident,” said Mitchell, a married father of two, now living in Sarnia and working as a barber, about the contest.

“I watched the video yesterday for the first time and I think it really portrays us really well,” he said.

The band also recently placed third in the Next Country Music Star contest, put on by the Ranch Resort and Aug. 16-19 Havelock Country Jamboree.

“The grand prize was a spot on the Havelock Jamboree, but they liked us so much that they offered us a spot anyways,” said Mitchell, who’s been playing music and writing poetry away from the spotlight for years, counting Gordon Lightfoot and John Prine among his lyrical influences.

He described the band as blue-collar country.

“Coming from Port Lambton and growing up around farms, I used to babysit a kid and we’d go down the street and wrestle pigs for fun on the weekends,” he said, also recalling working with his dad on oil rigs in southwestern Ontario growing up.

“That’s the kind of down-home sound that we go for and the audience that we’re really pushing,” he said, adding “we’re getting a real good local response, not only from Sarnia but also the surrounding area.”

Some are even telling him he can quit his day job and just enjoy life as a musician, he said.

“And it’s just like ‘You are straight tripping because this is the hardest I’ve ever worked at anything in my life,’” he said, crediting his family and others around him for helping the pieces to fall into place.

“This is kind of our emergence this season,” he said about the band.

“We’re going to be giving people a taste of who we are and what we’re all about.”