Saturday night at the 7th St. Entry, five up-and-coming Minnesota bands took the stage for the Star Tribune’s 7th Annual Are You Local? contest. Genres ranged from soul/hip-hop to rock, but ultimately, it was pop that emerged victorious. Holidae (pictured), comprising vocalist Ashley Gold and producer Garrett Neal, won the $1,500 and a South By Southwest festival slot. They’ll also open the Are You Local? showcase on March 11 in First Avenue’s mainroom. That show will be headlined by Allan Kingdom, and also feature the just announced King – the buzzing soul trio with Minneapolis connections (read about them here).

Mankato band Good Night Gold Dust opened Saturday’s contest, mostly playing from their self-titled EP. After deciding to shift from folk-rock to pop a year and a half ago, the group has been working in synthy territory. But their folk harmonies shone through onstage, and the music especially highlighted Laura Schultz’s voice. Between songs, Colin Scharf did most of the talking. He teased Ness Nite’s performance by saying he’d seen her at soundcheck: “Can we just watch her play all night?”

Up next, Ness Nite delivered spaced-out alt-R&B; I would’ve also welcomed a longer set. With less than a half-dozen performances under her belt, Nite was inconsistent, but the good moments – clever and gleaming – outshone every slip-up. She played an almost chronological set, beginning with older song “Lone” and moving through AYL? submission “Yes” and the minor-chord-strong, just-released “Lilith.” The newer the songs got, the stronger Nite’s verses sounded; she hooked the crowd with her as-yet-unreleased fifth song, which featured bars about space, time, and the fifth dimension.

Danami and the Blue made the crowd dance during their soul/hip-hop set, performing the most polished live show I’ve ever seen in the Entry. Frontman Danami hopped into the crowd to perform “By Your Side,” serenading a woman on behalf of her boyfriend: “This is what he’d say if he could rap.” He folded spoken word and choreography into the five-song set. The group also played Curtis Mayfield and Kanye West snippets, turning “Touch The Sky” into a call-and-response celebration near the end of the set. Each musician got to solo, briefly, and Danami closed with a Kanye callback. “Feels good to be home,” he said – “onstage.”

The Entry swerved from polish to grit when rock band Dives took the stage. The five-piece brought a big fanbase to the show, and the crowd got rowdy at the set’s start. Empty tallboys began piling up on any given surface, and suddenly, we were at a college show, with the band members going all-in. They added an a capella segment to “ChinaTown,” and keyboardist/synth player Jeff Jahangir sang some French, as well.

Holidae closed out the night with pop and ample production value, wearing black-and-white, medieval-inspired outfits under blue and purple lights. Joined by Ryan Mach on cymbals/drum pad, vocalist Ashley Gold and beatmaker Garrett Neal entertained the crowd with music from their unreleased debut album, Tantrum, which comes out April 22. Like Halsey in her spookier moments (“Control,” “Haunting”), Gold met poppy beats in their darkest places, especially on the fifth song. Neal and Gold threw their hoods up to perform that standout song, a dramatic track with the lyrics “royal seed.” But Gold’s lyrics often inspire hope. Even though “Darkest Shade” is Holidae’s only single out so far, the crowd sang the refrain of “better, better, better” with all the sweetness in the world. Gold grinned at the sing-along, cheering, “Whaaat?!” The crowd called for an encore.

Another song wasn’t to be, but Holidae received their title in a suspenseful envelope ceremony. When they heard their name, they jumped behind the backstage curtain, and came out to say thank-you on stage. “Shout-out to my mom and dad and my brother,” Gold laughed. She grinned. “I am shocked –literally shocked.”

(See Holidae March 11 at the Are You Local? showcase show with Allan Kingdom, King and other special guests. Buy tickets here.)

Top photo by Tony Nelson