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IBEW Has Talent: First District Act Wins with Living Tribute to Brotherhood

September 18, 2011

Finalists from each Vice Presidential district warmed up their voices and cranked their guitar amps in pursuit of top honors in the first-ever IBEW Has Talent competition Saturday afternoon at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver.

First District finalists Greg McFarlane and Rob Toomer’s winning song “IBEW Fights for Me” is a salute to the sacrifices made by past generations of IBEW members – sacrifices which have made the Brotherhood what it is today. The soaring ballad had delegates and other attendees on their feet, winning over the crowd, who determined the winners.

McFarlane, a 10-year Winnipeg, Manitoba, Local 2085 member and former organizer, says he wanted to write a song that fully expressed his passion for the union and everything it has done for him and his family:

We’ve both dedicated our lives to this movement, and we wanted to use our musical talents to spread the message that the IBEW is the right choice for working people.

Says Toomer, a fellow Local 2085 member and McFarlane’s cousin:

The solidarity we’ve felt here is incredible, meeting leaders from across the United States and Canada, all committed to cause of international brotherhood and solidarity.

All 11 acts, each representing their districts, took the stage in the early afternoon. Judges selected three acts to move on to the finals later in the day, when the grand prize winner was ranked by audience applause via a high-performance volume meter.

Second-place kudos went to the heavy melodic rock sounds of Joe Maraio and the Whyte Trash All-Stars, representing the Second District. The quartet, featuring Boston Local 103 journeyman wireman Michael Scapicchio on drums, performed an original song entitled “Angels of Envy.” He said:

We were excited to enter the contest. I love the union and getting to meet my fellow members from all over. Everybody here in Vancouver is unbelievable and it’s a great time. The whole thing was a blast.

Fourth District finalists The Safety Boys took third place for their entry, “The Safety Rap.”
Taking stage in safety gear, Richmond, Va., Local 50 lineman Dennis McDade rapped about the importance of workplace safety, dropping lines about safety cones and hard hats. He was backed up by fellow Local 50 members Ashley Windsor and Norman Soaper.

McDade, who works for Dominion Power, says they were inspired to do the rap after sitting on a local safety committee:

We wanted a fun and humorous way to communicate the message about the importance of on the job safety.

McDade put the “Safety Rap” video on YouTube two years ago, and it quickly became a viral hit, getting more than 200,000 hits.

Other contestants included:

  • Third District: Elmira, N.Y., Local 139 journeyman wireman Jeremy Horton has been an IBEW member for five years.
  • Fifth District: Clifford Zylks, a 34-year member, is an organizer and assistant business agent for Baton Rouge, La., Local 995. He was backed up by fellow Local 995 member Albert Mondt, a journeyman wireman.
  • Sixth District: West Frankfort, Ill., Local 702 member Gary Burt has 32 years in the trade, most recently as a welder repairman.
  • Seventh District: Oklahoma City, Okla., Local 1141 journeyman wireman Steven Gibson has been a member since 2006. He was accompanied by construction wireman Jimmy Stromberg, a fellow member of Local 1141.
  • Eighth District: Pocatello, Idaho, Local 449 president and organizer Mike Miera has been with the union since 1995. Also in his group was Boise Local 291 Business Manager Aaron White.
  • Ninth District: Anchorage, Alaska, Local 1547 member Cody Beltrami is a shop steward, and the daughter of Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami, a former business representative at Local 1547.
  • Tenth District: Wilmington, N.C.’s David Gwinn of Local 495 is a 27-year member currently working as a superintendent. His performance included Huntington, W.Va., Local 317 journeyman wireman Mick Donovsky.
  • Eleventh District: St. Louis, Mo., Local 1349 lineman David Pursley, a 19-year member, has been the safety representative in his garage for more than a decade.

A wave of video submissions for the competition poured into the International Office after the talent contest was announced last December. Attendees at this year’s district progress meetings previewed each entry and voted for their favorites. Mark Brueggenjohann, International Representative in the Media Department, said the contest offered a chance for members to showcase their unique abilities outside the trade:

For it being the first time we’ve ever tried anything like this, it was a pretty solid success. We got great entries that really showed a cross-section of our members’ varied talents.

I think attendees really enjoyed the acts. It’s always fun to see someone perform who you have a connection to, so watching fellow members of the Brotherhood was exciting.

Attendees also enjoyed the slick pop sounds of Danny Gokey, gorgeous folk from The Wailin’ Jennys and the crowd-pleasing sounds of headliner Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers.

Gokey is a former truck driver who hit the big time when he finished in third place on American Idol. He served as one of the expert judges who decided the three IBEW Has Talent finalists.

Female trio The Wailin’ Jennys won over the crowd with their affecting mix of Americana and traditional folk, underscored by moving three-part harmonies. The group dedicated their closing a cappella performance to the memory of Eighth District International Executive Council member Richard Dowling, who passed away on May 31.

After a rousing set, Hornsby’s group rounded out the evening by bringing talent contest winners McFarlane and Toomer to the stage for a soaring rendition of the Otis Redding classic “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”

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