Lights low, crowd stirring, mic checks and buzzing amps—it’s the night of JMU’s 5th annual battle of the bands, Rumble Down Under. UPB’s Spotlight Series team transforms TDU into a live music haven for student bands to compete for one awesome prize: the opportunity to open for JMU’s spring festival, Madipalooza.
Several student bands submitted demo videos and recordings for the chance to play at Rumble Down Under, but the committee chose Swell Daze, Juice Bruns, Send to the City and Strongwater to show off their musical abilities Wednesday, March 18.
“We’re really excited to be here tonight,” Harrisonburg resident and member of Send to the City John Averys said, “All the bands are doing a great job.” John has been playing with the band’s guitarist, JMU senior Andrew Weed since the two friends were in high school. Send to the City played third in the lineup, bringing some of their original music as well as covers of famous songs such as The Jackson 5’s “One More Chance” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.”
The crowd bopped, grooved and jammed in front of the stage to the bands’ awesome music. While some students tore up the dance floor, others relaxed on couches and chairs to chat with friends and enjoy the music. Sophomore math major Billy Bower attended the show Wednesday to support his friends playing in Swell Daze. “It’s always awesome to see new people play, but I still want [Swell Daze] to win.”
Swell Daze, comprised of JMU students Titus Barton, Mitch Weissman, Addison Smith and McCoy Douglasson, describe their sound as “crisp, modern rock.” The band has played for other Spotlight series events, and opened for Civil Twilight’s show in TDU this February. Swell Daze also competed in Rumble Down Under last year, and were back for another shot at victory.
The bands performed not only for the crowd, but also for a panel of judges who decided which group would play for Madipalooza. The judges included the Spotlight Sounds Series director Eric Sites, Madipalooza co-chair Aaron Combs, former Blue Nile basement manager Mark Finks, and co-owner of Blue Sprocket sounds, Chris Jackson. Chris not only judged the show, but provided an additional prize for this year’s winners: the chance to record a single at Blue Sprocket Sound.
Folksy banjo and cello tunes replaced drum solos and heavy guitars when Strongwater took the stage at the end of the night. Strongwater is no stranger to the stage light: they opened for Judah & the Lion during a Spotlight Sounds Series show last semester, play at open mic nights, and perform at Harrisonburg venues. The band has played together for over a year and writes all of their own songs.
Judges watched this last performance before leaving the room to deliberate. Audience members vote for their favorite bands throughout the night. The results of the audience votes are factored into the judges’ decision, which is also based on musical ability, originality, showmanship and crowd response.
The bands, exhilarated from performing and anxious for the results, talked to friends and gave words of encouragement to their contenders. Finally, Spotlight Sounds Series director Eric grabbed a mic and got on stage to announce that the winners of the Blue Sprocket Sounds recording session and this year’s opener for Madipalooza was Strongwater.
Everyone applauded as the band members received their trophy and accolades for an excellent performance. “We’re mad stoked to be playing at Blue Sprocket [Sounds],” Strongwater singer and guitarist Greg Brennan said.
To hear these bands’ music, check out their Facebook pages, and be sure to come to Madipalooza to support Strongwater!