By STEVEN NALLEY
From every corner of Starkville, Mississippi State University and the Golden Triangle, eight bands are converging to battle on the stage of Rick’s Cafe.
Some are in it to win it. Others are merely looking for extra exposure to Starkville. All envision this battle bringing them one step closer to winning the hearts and headphones of larger and larger audiences.
Mississippi State University will hold a Battle of the Bands on March 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. at Rick’s Cafe to decide which of the area’s bands will open for the Old Main Music Festival.
Bands will be judged by a panel of three MSU students, each from one of the three student organizations sponsoring the Old Main Music Festival: the Campus Activities Board, the Student Association and Music Maker Productions. The judging criteria are musicianship, crowd involvement, stage presence, and originality.
Last year’s winner was Hobo Hippie, and guitarist and vocalist Justin Parker said the band might not compete again this year. He said Hobo Hippie is very busy with a debut CD planned for May and produced by Jim Gaines, who has also worked with Journey, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Gales and the Steve Miller Band.
“We think the Battle of the Bands is a great opportunity for talented local musicians to get a chance to show off some of their original tunes for a large headliner crowd, just a great experience overall,” Parker said.
Toby Hartleroad is the guitarist and vocalist for The Motions, a Columbus-based band whose guitarist and keyboardist, Kyle Bennett, is a student at MSU. He said the band has been practicing a great deal for the battle.
“It’s spring break this week,” Hartleroad said Wednesday, “ and thank goodness, everybody’s spring break coincides, so we’ve been holing up.”
Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen are among the biggest influences on The Motions, Hartleroad said. He also said he was especially motivated to win by the opportunity to play with Old Main’s headliners, Robert Randolph and the Family Band.
“It would be really cool to play with Robert Randolph,” Hartleroad said. “He’s a phenomenal guitar player.”
Winning would also lend the band exposure to Starkville audiences, something Hartleroad said they haven’t had as much as elsewhere. He said the band has been playing outside the Starkville area for a long time, and that is one of their biggest advantages against the other bands.
“A lot of bands play here in Starkville and columbus and never really get out,” Hartleroad said. “I believe we are very driven, and I don’t think we sound like anyone around here at all. We like to stick out from the scene. It’s not necessarily that we’re more driven, we’re just driven. We know what we want to do.”
However, he also said he didn’t know Starkville’s music scene very well.
“There’s only one band in Starkville we play with on a regular basis, and that’s the Jarheads,” Hartleroad said.
The Jarheads are a post-punk band from Starkville, formed from three friends who first played together for an 8th grade talent show and have been together ever since.
Jarheads bassist Adrian Lewis said the band recently had been practicing a lot more, but it wasn’t because of the Battle of the Bands in particular. Rather, he said it was to prepare the band to tour further away from Starkville during the summer. Winning, and opening at Old Main, are secondary to gaining experience, he said.
“I don’t know if we’re going to win or not,” Lewis said. “If we do win, it’s fine. It’s an honor, I guess. If we don’t, it’s their loss.”
Robert Ledet is the vocalist, pianist and guitarist for Ledet and the Bears, which lists an incredible number of influences on its Facebook page: Steely Dan, Death Cab for Cutie, Yes, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sufjan Stevens, Devo, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chopin, and dozens more.
However, like The Motions, Ledet said the bands he didn’t know so well were the competition. He also said it has been an uphill battle for his band, or any band, to build an audience in Starkville, just as in any city.
“To get a gig you have to have fans, but, to have fans you have to get a gig,” Ledet said. “It’s a Catch-22. Hopefully this performance will somehow yield a place to play. Winning the battle of the bands would mean some good exposure with a larger audience.”
Ledet said scheduling limits their opportunities to practice for the battle.
“Two of us are first-year architecture students,” Ledet said,” and our drummer is a working grad student.”
Ledet still said he hoped their talent would carry them to the top.
“We have catchy original songs, instrumental talent and nice vocals,” Ledet said. “Not to toot our own horn.”
Another competitor, Squirlock Holmes, is assembled from former members of Cut N Run who have refocused themselves on funk, blues, and rock. Bassist Bryce Blanton said while there was some serious competition this year, his band, Squirlock Holmes, was a shoe-in to win the battle.
“We have what no one else does: The rabid drum and bass grooves and wildfire-inducing guitar chops to send the inhabitants of Starkville into an epidemic state of boogie fever, the likes of which have never been seen before,” Blanton said.
Squirlock Holmes is also armed with a sense of humor, if Blanton is any indication. For example, he said the band was preparing by “Keeping a diet high in acorns and trying to not get run over.”
As for opening Old Main, he said “It would be a big step in gaining equal rights for squirrel detectives.”