The Crystal uncovers an Aussie acoustic gem 

Who: Mark Kelly

Where: Crystal Lounge

When: Friday and Saturday, May 9 and 10

They call him the man with the magic hands. And It seems 26-year-old Aussie physiotherapist Mark Kelly, can do more with those hands than mend a few sore joints and bones. He can give the guitar a damn good work out too.

So good in fact that he recently won the Whistler Music Search, a five-week knock-out talent competition at the Crystal Lounge that had him singing and strumming his way into the finals, eventually winning the crowd, the judges and the grand prize – a $2,000 12-string electric/acoustic guitar.

Kelly, a Melbourne boy, has been a Whistler-Blackcomb G1 rental techie this past season, taking time out from physiotherapy back home. While he had been "mucking about with mates on the guitar most the winter," his Music Search win really shocked him.

"I honestly didn’t know what to expect out of the experience," he said. "I had played a couple of open mic nights and Randy (competition organizer) asked me if I would be interested in the Music Search. He said he’d put my name on the list and that was it. I barely thought I’d get through a heat let alone win the whole thing."

When you consider Kelly’s background in music, you can see why his attitude is so refreshingly laid back. Apart from busking a few times in Australia’s favourite hippie surf spot, Byron Bay, the extent of his experience was confined to playing around bonfires on the beach back home with friends.

"It was always just a hobby. I mean I love it, but never thought I was good enough to get paid to play."

Since hitting the Whistler stage however, Kelly has been building a loyal following of fellow musicians, friends and acoustic connoisseurs.

"Whistler is such a great spot to play acoustic," said Kelly. "The locals really love their open mic nights and they make you feel so good up there that you don’t want to stop. It’s making it a really smooth transition."

So is Kelly about to give up on back rubs and busted bone mending to become a bona fide rock star?

"I wouldn’t go that far but I’m definitely inspired now to play pub gigs up and down the coast of Australia when my Canadian visa runs out, and basically use my music as a tool to travel," he said.

Serving up a balanced mix of contagious originals and international rock covers has been Kelly’s trademark. He loves performing Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Ben Harper, Jack Johnson plus a solid serving of Down Under’s favourite ditties – always crowd pleasers in this vegemite-rich community.

"But those songs are not just to win over antipodean audiences," he said.

A lot of Canadians appreciate the variety too.

"Oz rock is a lot like Canadian rock – there’s usually a story to tell so even if you don’t know the rhythms, you can listen to the story behind it."

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