The annual Picktown Palooza is using a new format this year to audition central Ohio bands to perform at the three-night festival.

Picktown Palooza founder Chris Stein said he has formed a partnership with Craft & Vinyl – a craft-beer counter, record shop and songwriter’s recording suite near Grandview Heights – to blaze the “Path to Picktown Palooza.”

”There’s a lot of talent – a lot of talent – in the Columbus area,” Stein said. “Because there’s so much talent, I get so many requests from bands to play that we thought, ‘Why not create a path to the Picktown Palooza?’

“So that’s where the name came from.”

The Palooza will take place July 9 to 11 at Columbus (state Route 256) and Center streets in Pickerington.

This is the fourth year for the event that, in addition to music, offers amusement rides, food vendors, a 5K run, a car show and a business showcase.

Traditionally, bands would submit electronic press kits to Stein, and he would try to see them perform live.

With the new format, rock and country bands may apply through a link on the Craft & Vinyl website, craft-n-vinyl.com, or at picktownpalooza.org. There is no fee to register, and those selected will audition with performances for five weeks at Craft & Vinyl , 1806 W. Fifth Ave., Columbus.

During a sixth week in both the rock and county competitions, a winner will be chosen to share the bill with a national headliner at the Palooza.

The rock-group winner will perform on the stage that will be headlined by Cinderella’s Tom Keifer.

The country band will share the stage with an unannounced national country act.

Auditions for the rock hopefuls start March 19, but Craft & Vinyl owner Troy Stacy said bands in the genre still have time to apply.

“There are a few submission slots still open for rock, and we have a couple weeks left for country submissions,” Stacy said.

Country auditions will begin April 30.

Stein said the Palooza draws 15,000 to 18,000 people over its three-day run, and previous headliners have included Tyler Rich, Tyler Hilton, Ryan Cabrera, Aaron Carter, O-Town, Dokken, Night Ranger, the Kentucky Headhunters, Cracker and Soul Asylum.

“I’ve got so many local or regional bands that are willing to play for the exposure,” Stein said.

During auditions, a panel of judges including Stein, Stacy, radio personalities, professional musicians and members of the music media will evaluate performances to determine which bands will take the stage at the Palooza.

Judges will evaluate professionalism, performance, stage presence, votes of fans attending the auditions and social-media promotion. Each category has a possible score 1 to 5 stars.

Stein said the pathway auditions would help him vet bands that approach him to open for the national acts, and “it also serves as a great grassroots activation to engage the community and get them talking about the Palooza well in advance of its dates this summer.”

Stacy is a Pickerington native who operates his business on Fifth Avenue and now lives in Upper Arlington. He said he decided to partner with the Palooza because of his roots and his love of music.

“I’m a Pickerington guy at heart, and I love my hometown,” he said. “Most of my family still live there.

“I partnered with Chris because he’s created a wonderful community event. Everything Chris does is professional, and the Picktown Palooza is well-organized and wonderfully executed.”

Stacy said he hopes the contests will “create legitimate opportunities for music makers in our community.”

“Record labels aren’t developing and nurturing artists as they did in the past,” he said. “I know this because I’m a former VP of marketing within the Universal family of record labels having earned my first (Record Industry Association of America) gold and platinum albums for marketing with Interscope Records.

“It’s up to us as a community to create legitimate opportunities to develop our local music makers. It’s critical, in fact, and that has led me to become a local music community activist of sorts.”

More information about the Palooza is available at picktownpalooza.org.

“My hope is to deliver a wonderful opportunity for worthy bands,” Stacy said.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate