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Cairo singer punches ticket to Countryfest

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    Chelsea Sulkey with three of her bandmates, bassist Mike Persico, drummer Tim Coletti and lead guitarist Benny Sloyan.
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    Chelsea Sulkey and her band open for singer Frankie Ballard in Albany in June 2017.
January 10, 2018 11:30 pm

CAIRO — Country singers often belt out tunes about broken hearts, but Cairo native Chelsea Sulkey cried tears of joy after winning a regional contest.

Sulkey, 23, and her band will perform at the 25th annual Countryfest in Albany where she’ll most likely open for a major performer in a 20-minute set.

“It’s always been my dream,” Sulkey said. “I’m still kind of in shock.”

Details about this year’s show, including its date, location and lineup have not been announced, but will be revealed in the near future, WGNA-FM Brand Manager Matty Jeff said Wednesday.

“This is going to be the biggest Countryfest yet,” he said.

Sulkey’s band was one of five groups and artists up for Albany-based country radio station WGNA’s Taste of Country Hometown Riser contest. Sulkey received 35 percent of the vote, according to a statement from WGNA. One of the runners-up called Sulkey to congratulate her, which she appreciated.

“With country music, everyone is very supportive of each other,” Sulkey said.

Sulkey’s win gives her group a chance to advance to the National Taste of Country Riser contest where they will compete against winners representing 34 other country radio stations for a chance to be featured on the Taste of Country website, Sulkey said.

Sulkey learned about the contest in December 2017 after her father heard about it on the radio.

“It’s just to get your name out there,” Sulkey said. “That would be across all America.”

While Sulkey does not know who will perform at the one-day festival in July, there is one singer she would love to open for.

“Carrie Underwood would be an absolute dream come true,” she said Wednesday.

WGNA is holding the contest for the first time, Jeff said, adding a requirement that all participating bands provide one original song.

Listeners selecting an artist to perform at Countryfest gave them a chance to choose who they wanted to see perform at the annual festival, which they haven’t gotten to do before, Jeff said.

“It gives them ownership of it,” he said. “All these local acts have their own followings.”

Each of the artists and bands that entered were qualified to perform at the country music bash, Jeff said. WGNA staff is familiar with Sulkey’s performances.

“I think Chelsea is going to be great,” Jeff said.

Backing Sulkey are bassist Mike Persico, drummer Tim Coletti, lead guitarist Benny Sloyan and rhythm guitarist Josh Byerwalters. The group quickly put together a song and video titled “Gone” to submit before the deadline.

“It was essentially done in one night,” Coletti said. “The fact that one take, one night, got us this opportunity is incredible to me.”

Sulkey has performed in a band on and off since she was 18. Coletti has been a fixture in the group, she said. The pair have been friends since they were 12.

“It’s a known constant that whenever she wanted to play, I was her guy,” Coletti said. “There’s this unspoken chemistry between her and I.”

Sulkey said she loves country music because it’s real and honest and cited Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Kellie Pickler as some of her favorite country artists.

“You kind of talk about your life and nobody really judges you,” she said of the genre. “It’s real life, honest.”

Sulkey’s band performs mainly local gigs. The group opened for singer Frankie Ballard at the Capital Hill Golf Course in Albany last June. Since the announcement of the band’s win they’ve received calls for future gigs, the aspiring country singer said.

Sulkey said she loves to get the crowd interacting when she performs and said Kelsea Ballerini’s song “Dibs” is a real crowd-pleaser.

“That one gets everyone pumped,” Sulkey said. “I just sing — I want to focus on singing and getting the crowd involved.”

The band plans to record a demo of original tunes, which Sulkey is considering submitting to WGNA to play in anticipation of the festival. Sometime in the near future, the band will work on an official full-length album, Sulkey said.

“That would be really cool just to do a little preview,” Sulkey said of the demo. “We’re trying to slow down and write a bunch.”

Sulkey received support from family and many members of the Cairo community. The 2012 Cairo-Durham High School graduate’s former music teacher, Kate Siegenthaler, reached out to congratulate her on the band’s recent success.

“You see how much the community comes together when things happen,” Sulkey said of her hometown. “It was really sweet of everyone.”

Coletti praised the amount of great talent in the Capital Region, including Sulkey, who he said has made a name for herself in the area.

“She’s got the talent, there’s no denying it,” Coletti said of his bandmate. “Once we let the community know about our music and success, they were incredibly supportive.”

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM