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Judge for Frank Vieira

Vestal, NY
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Portrait of Frank Vieira
It's hard to tell whether Frank Vieira found country music, or whether country found him, but there's no denying the fit is as perfect as the busted-up Pittsburgh Penguins cap that's a fixture on his head. Born on Valentine's Day, 1990, in Schenectady, N.Y., Frank has put his heart into everything he's ever done, from being a three-sport athlete all through high school to the music he now plays and loves. As he makes his way onto the country music scene, you can hear the passion in his voice and see it in his face when he performs, from the heartfelt "Over, Over You," the title track to his first album, to the rollicking rhythm of "Never Mine To Lose." In the end, Frank says, the lyrics are everything. And even though he's only 20, he's crafted nearly 100 songs -- 9 of which are featured on "Over, Over You," a labor of love pumped out during the summer of 2010 with producer Dave Rice. Maybe everyone should have seen this passion for country music coming, since Frank's perfect day has always included a fishing pole and a flailing bass. But for 18 years, that passion took a backseat to different dreams. By the time he was in kindergarten, he was playing competitive football, hockey and baseball -- sports that would carry him through high school. He spent most of his early years in West Caldwell, N.J., about 25 miles outside of New York City, before his family moved to Vestal, N.Y., near Binghamton, when he and younger brother, Tim, were 11 and 10. The move hardly detered Frank's athletic pursuits. Before he picked up his first guitar, he was a promising young quarterback and a hockey player who would go on to be a three-time high school all-star and play a year at the junior level. And if athletics weren't going to carry him through life, his artwork would. He had the gift from a young age: cartoonist, painter, clay sculptor. If he wasn't at practice or a game, or watching his beloved Pittsburgh Penguins play hockey, he was probably drawing or sculpting -- penguins, of course. By the time he was a high school junior, he had decided his life's path: he would go to college in Pittsburgh, play football, and become a graphic artist. And that's exactly what he did, with a little twist in the storyline. Senior year at Vestal High -- and one class -- started to change everything. Kevin LaDue's guitar-making class was just too cool to pass up. Frank loved the idea of building his own guitar, piece-by-piece, one class session at a time. This wasn't a kit, this was hand-craftsmanship right down to the finish, carefully monitored by LaDue, who had conducted this class for years. And by spring, Frank -- and each of his classmates -- had built an honest-to-goodness acoustic guitar, one that couldn't have sounded more perfect. While guitars and guitar-playing weren't exactly new to Frank -- his father banged around on an old Ovation that Frank sometimes picked up, and his parents had bought him a Squier and small amp a couple of years earlier -- the idea of actually playing guitar, writing songs and singing in public wasn't even on his mind -- until he held that 2008 vintage Frank Vieira/Kevin LaDue beauty. On his myspace page (, Frank describes it this way: "A little left of center,î would describe my path in life into music. I grew up with no interest, no desire to ever do anything musically, until my senior year In high school (Vestal, N.Y.) where we were offered an elective to build an acoustic guitar .... I took the class, fell in love with the guitar and haven't put it down since. It may be odd to think a country singer could come from New York, and people always ask why I play the kind of music I do, I say, why not. Its about the lyrics and about the feeling you get knowing that someone relates to exactly what your saying that makes country music special. ... My music is patterned after my favorite artists, Eric Church, Dierks Bentley, Gary Allan, and Brad Paisley. My goal is to write songs that people can relate to. Songs that you listen to and say 'Hey I've been there before' or 'That happened to me.' That's the most rewarding thing I believe when someone comes up to you after a show and says your song helped get me through my day. Putting a smile on someoneís face playing a good olí bar song never hurts either." To truly understand the journey, go back in time to the fall of 2007, Frank's senior year, long before that guitar had taken shape: Frank had already started to fulfill his dreams. He had looked at about a dozen colleges, but Robert Morris University, just north of Pittsburgh, was his first choice -- great, small campus, a rising graphic arts program, and 18 miles from the city -- and hockey team -- he so dearly loves. But he wanted to play football, too, and RMU was Division I. In the middle of the seven-hour ride back home to Vestal, Frank's cell phone rang. It was a member of the coaching staff, offering him a preferred walk-on spot as a wide receiver. There was no more need for discussion: RMU would be his home for the next four years. Frank left for football camp in early August, 2008. That Frank Vieira/Kevin LaDue guitar went with him. Sometimes, things happen for reasons we can't fathom at the time. Maybe now we know the answer. It was a routine pass pattern in practice, a sharp cut, and a burning pain in his Achilles. A week into camp, his football career was done. But his music career was just beginning. As he grew more confident as a guitarist, Frank discovered a new talent: his ability to write songs and perform in public. By March of his freshman year, he played his first gig: at the university's art gallery in Pittsburgh. "It was the start of something enjoyable, even though it was the crappiest show of all time," Frank says now. Undetered, he kept playing. That summer, he came home to Vestal and was given the opportunity to play at the Africa House in Endicott -- an unlikely venue for country music, but he was grateful for the opportunity. By that September, he got his first big break, taking his solo act to the streets of Endicott at Apple Festival, where about 3,000 people roamed Washington Avenue in search of food, crafts and live music. "It was my first chance to play in front of that many people and get some good, positive feedback, it gave me the confidence to push even harder." Frank said. He started managing RMU's open-mic night, every other week at the school's cafeteria. In the spring of 2010, he played at Pennsylvania's Special Olympics -- "A wonderful event, it really was a celebration, something special to be a part of," he said. In the summer of 2010, Frank took his music to a new level, playing a number of clubs around Central New York and recording his first album, "Over, Over You," with Dave Rice, a local musician and producer. He put his artistic ability to good use, too, designing his own CD jacket, with help of photographer Rebecca Catlett. At some point, he says, you'll find him in Nashville. And why not? His musical idol, Eric Church, has already given him the inspiration. Like Eric, Frank thanks God he ain't what he almost was.

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