PLAYING DETROIT: Six Tiny Desk Contest Submissions from Detroit

Audra Kubat reps Detroit in NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest this year. Photo by Daniel Land.

For indie bands on the rise, it’s become a rite of passage to perform a live set in Bob Boilen’s office as part of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, which has been ongoing since 2008. But since 2014, the inception of an annual contest to discover new talent has allowed unsigned acts to get a piece of the action, too. Not only does the winning band get a chance to play for the esteemed All Songs Considered host, NPR also sponsors a national tour, often with life-changing results. Past winners have included Grammy-winner Fantastic Negrito (2015), Gaelynn Lea (2016), Tank and the Bangas (2017), and Naia Izumi (2018). With thousands of submissions, the contest seemingly pulls talent out of the woodwork, attracting artists from all different backgrounds and styles. Here are six artists based in Detroit that threw their hats in the ring this year. The winner will be announced this month. Good luck!

Audra Kubat

Detroit folk mainstay Audra Kubat breaks hearts with her chilling rendition of “Oh Mother.” Her graceful delivery and wise lyrics recall sitting alone in a deserted dive bar or falling asleep to the sound of rustling leaves.

Allye Gaietto

Singer-songwriter Allye Gaietto showcases her earnest writing style and crystal clear vocals on “Soon,” an unreleased song she performed for her Tiny Desk submission. The lyrics here are just devastating and Gaietto delivers them with a range of emotion, gliding from a shimmering falsetto into a strong belt that could move mountains. It’s a genuine, beautiful performance.

Strictly Fine

Up-and-coming seven-piece funk/alt-jazz group Strictly Fine go through a full range of emotions in their performance of “In My Life.” All seven of them squished into a room to perform their unique genre of music, which includes a full horn section, jazz croons and a whole lot of funk.

Greater Alexander

Greater Alexander’s soothing folk music is perfect for this stripped-down setting, with just his vocals and acoustic guitar. “Smoke” sounds like a gentle hymn that starts on the ground and drifts into the clouds.

Carmel Liburdi

Carmel Liburdi shares her brand of folk music in her eccentric song “One Too Many.” The song showcases her knack for storytelling and almost circus-like performance style that combines theatrics, timeless rhythms, and mouth trumpet.


Handgrenades strip things down for their submission, opting for acoustic guitar, muted drums, and a xylophone. As always, the harmonies are on point and the band is super tight. The video is filmed in what looks like the band’s practice space, full of different synths, concert posters and somebody’s cat, making it feel like you snuck up on them for an intimate glimpse into an everyday rehearsal.