Last week, from Monday through Thursday (Jan. 8-10), Vienna VA’s Jammin Java
club hosted the eighth edition of its twice-yearly Mid-Atlantic Band Battle, in which
regional bands competed each night to be the one act that advances to the finals in
February. The winner of that final Battle will receive $2500 cash, a headlining show
at Jammin Java, studio time and other musician-friendly goodies.
The Band Battle doesn’t rely on audience response to determine the winner, instead
using a panel of judges that scores each band on criteria like musicianship and
songwriting. I judged on Tuesday night (Jan. 8) and was delighted to be invited back
on Thursday (Jan. 10).
Since one band that was schedule to appear had cancelled, there were just five acts
instead of the usual six to consider this night. As usual, the competition was fierce.
Here’s how it went down, with photos taken from the judges’ table…
Smoke n’ Mangos opened the night with a bluegrass set marked by high spirits and
strong playing. Trading among instruments like mandolin, banjo, cello and violin,
the Poolesville, MD quintet showed an impressive range, including a bouyant cover
of Sublime’s hit, “What I Got.” So far, the Mangos have released one low-fi release,
(“Go Folk Yourself”) and are currently working on a second studio album. You can
hear them for yourself courtesy of four free downloads at the group’s ReverbNation
Though a relatively young band, Grand Revival is a veteran of a previous Band Battle
and returned for another try, this time with a new lead singer (although the former
frontman came out for a song with his old mates). A straightforward guitar rock
outfit with hard edges, they too, had an interesting cover choice in their set, a metal-
tinged take on Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.”
Next up was Ryful, a duo from Maryland comprised of Jon Fuller on drums and
Justin Pokrywka guitar. Like the White Stripes or JEFF the Brotherhood before
them, Ryful proved that just two players can make a mighty sound. The
instrumentation may be stripped-down, but with Pokrywka’s strong voice and the
fine musical interplay between the two players, Ryful (pardon the pun) hit the
target with blues-tinged alternative rock.
The night’s groove took a turn to the mellow with the arrival of Poor Man’s
Copyright, a rock/reggae trio that’s been a staple of the local scene for some years.
They, too, have a song to share at ReverbNation.
The final slot of the night belonged to the Kalob Griffin Band, a Philadelphia-based
group of Americana rockers with a front-porch-in-the-mountains sound. Leader
Kalob Griffin (vocals/guitar) cites John Prine and the Avett Brothers has stylistic
touchstones, and the band has released one full-length album, “June Found A Gun,”
on its own independent record label. For a taste of the KGB in action, a charming
music video for the track “Winter Blues” shows the band in action on an informal
tour of independent record stores.
As always, the judges vote in secret (I don’t see the other scores) so it’s never clear
until the announcement is made who will take top honors at the Battle. It’s kinda
like the Olympics when just a few inches or seconds can mean the difference. Congratulations, then, to all the bands who offered the crowd so much fine music this night.
Only one act can win the Gold however, and on this night, it was Grand Revival. (I personally suspect that if there were Silver and Bronze, Ryful and Smoke n’ Mangos would be standing on the podium, too.) And so, Grand Revival joins the previous nights’ winners – Arteless, M.H. and His Orchestra and Heather Mae – in moving forward to the Mid-Atlantic Band Battle VIII finals, to be held on February 22.
It will be a great chance to catch up with some of the area’s best young talent, so hope to see you there.
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