Published February 23. 2013 4:00AM
From the Cowsills and the Osmonds - and even those fake Partridges! - to the Neville Brothers, the Jackson 5, Van Halen and the Allman Brothers, the idea of a "family band" has long flourished across the U.S. musical landscape.
Now, local pop-rock act Madison Red, which includes sibling membership from two different families, has a chance to stake out its own legacy. The band is one of 15 groups from across the country selected to compete in a new musical reality show called "Next Great Family Band."
The series, airing on the NBC-owned COZI network, debuted on Feb. 17, and Madison Red will be introduced at 8 p.m. Sunday during the second episode. In southern Connecticut, "Next Great Family Band" can be seen on Comcast channel 934.
"We're very excited and it's such a great opportunity," says 17-year-old Duncan Maxwell of Ledyard, the band's bassist. "It's not every day you get to play your music on national television."
He's joined in Madison Red by his brothers, 18-year-old Ian (keyboards/vocals) and 14-year-old Aidan (drums). The group also includes the Sunshine siblings from East Lyme - 16-year-old lead vocalist Sierra and her 12-year-old brother, Braiden (vocals/synthesizer/percussion) - as well 17-year-old Nolan Smyth of Lyme (guitar) and 14-year-old Tom Bora of Ledyard (guitar).
"Even though Nolan and I aren't actually related to (the Maxwells or Sunshines), it sure feels like we're one big family," Bora says. "We see each other twice a week, and over the last two years we've all just gotten very close. Plus, just being in a band is a lot like family, too."
The musicians got together three years ago, formed a cover band called Silver Hammer, and rapidly gained a local following. Gradually, they shifted focus to original material and, last October, released a self-titled CD. In November, the band appeared on "Live Lunch Break," The Day's award-winning streaming concert series.
Seirra and Braiden's mother, Liz Sunshine, heard about "The Next Great Family Band," got in touch with the show's production team, and submitted a video of Madison Red performing.
"We loved Madison Red, especially seeing how the two families merge into one awesome band," says Seth Feldman, creator and executive producer of the show.
He was also impressed with Liz Sunshine and her approach.
"We were looking for bands where mom doubled as a manager - and from a television standpoint, we found Mrs. Sunshine to be ultimate 'mom-a-ger' - tough and loving at the same time," he says.
Technically, Madison Red is managed by Jeff Franklin, who also produced their debut album at his Jam 2 Nite Studios in Middletown. But Liz Sunshine, who describes her role as "proud mom and taxi driver," certainly works to spread the word.
The format for the competition is bipartite. Episodes in the first half of the season will introduce three acts each week. In addition to a video of the respective acts performing a song, there is also brief biographical footage and taped Skype interaction between band members and the show's panel of industry experts: Samantha Maloney (former drummer for Motley Crue and Hole), Phoenix Stone (country artist and ex-Backstreet Boy), and Kimberley Locke (who placed third on the 2003 season of "American Idol").
In the second half of the season, the judges will use viewers' social media commentary and select two bands to mentor. Over successive weeks, during which the groups perform new material, the process will repeat until there are only three surviving acts.
The finalists will then perform at a nationally recognized venue to be determined, and the winner gets to record a song produced by the judges.
The idea of a reality show was initially a bit disconcerting to Madison Red.
"The 'Family Band' people are so familiar and friendly that we were comfortable at once," Duncan Maxwell says, "but when we first heard the phrase 'reality show,' we couldn't help but wonder if it would be some 'Jersey Shore' thing where people get drunk. But this is a lot more positive and fulfilling."
The "Family Band" appearances also introduce new possibilities for Madison Red. At present, the musicians range in age from middle school to college. And while the goal all along has been to continue to play together as long as scheduling allows, success on "Family Band" might open some doors in the music business that might shift priorities around.
"If the band took off, I think those of us in college could probably take a year off or just take courses by computer," Duncan says. "I think I speak for all of us when I say we'd only want to put college plans on hold if it was something special and important. At the same time, Madison Red is a cohesive unit and we're all definitely committed to that, too, if it goes that way."
"Brand New Day" is the first song the band selected to air on the program. An insanely hooky three-minute slice of driving power pop, the tune was a consensus choice by the musicians.
Hopefully, Madison Red will get the opportunity to perform more songs by advancing to subsequent rounds in the "Family Band" competition.
"It's all part of a great experience," Duncan says. "With my brothers and the Sunshine family and Nolan and Tom, we've all grown as musicians. But the whole family dynamic is so important to the band itself. We all think of ourselves as siblings, and that makes it easier to channel what we go through together for the best creative purpose. Because we come from the same place."