Anne Arundel High School Bands Battle Again
Over eight years, the Anne Arundel County Battle of the Bands has raised nearly $40,000 for local high school music departments, prompting the claim that it is the largest show of its kind in the country.
reviewed by Sam Farmer
Eleven bands from nine schools hit the stage for the ninth annual battle on Jan. 20, filling the auditorium at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis.
Playing first, Annapolis High’s The People set two records. With eight members trumpet, bass, guitar, tenor sax, trombone, keyboards, drums and three vocalists The People was the event’s all-time largest ensemble. Drummer Lucas Johnson set a second record as the event’s first musician to play for two bands in the same night. Battle veteran formerly keeping the beat for Chump, Johnson took home Best Drummer Award.
The People’s stylized opening every player except bassist Jacob Isbell standing back to the audience highlighted the band’s funk grooves. Two other bands featured horns, but none delved as deeply into funk as The People. That opening bass line went a long way in earning Isbell the Best Bassist Award.
“Being on stage was just so fun,” Isbell said.
For second-up Champagne, the first of South River High School’s tandem entries, saxophonist and back-up vocalist Anna Cocchiaro kept the energy high, sporadically winging glow-lights into the seats. But Champagne had the misfortune of preceding Annapolis High’s second act, The Tori Tullier Band.
At center stage, Tori Tullier sang lead and played keyboards. Her vocals were audible and pretty, a unique combination at this Battle. Cousin Allison Tullier a second Annapolis high schooler to play in two bands backed her up vocally and kept rhythm on bass. Katie Haney bowed the violin, and Lucas Johnson again elevated the music with his strong work on the drum rise.
Their sound was the cleanest and most dramatic departure to a lighter, lyrical genre. The set’s melodic four songs devoid of gimmick, emphasizing keyboards and taking advantage of rests and cadences earned second in the overall competition.
Tori Tullier claimed awards for Best Vocalist, Best Original Song, and Best Other Musician and announced the release of an album.
As for her originality, Tullier said, “At first, I wasn’t sure if it was going to work with us or against us. I wasn’t sure what the judges were expecting.”
Tullier’s sentiments reflect the Battle’s evolution into a rock show. Every band had a drummer, and nine featured both guitarist and bassist. Vocals took a backseat to wild jams; instrumentals were scarce; angst ran wild. No blues, jazz, bluegrass or Americana.
Any age seeks its tonic in formulas. Still, it would be a relief to see more young musicians treasuring a tradition that offers more than chaos and enmity.
South River High’s second band, We the Fearless, added acrobatics to the formula, as lead singer Jesse James broke into a combination of the moon walk and robot.
“The talent just keeps getting better,” crowed Battle founder and director Nancy Almgren, who stepped in front of the curtain next to throw T-shirts to the crowd and announce the addition of big screens on either side of the stage. “These bands improve so fast because they’re getting ready for this event.”
Up next was Choice, from Southern High, the smallest band of the night with just three members. The unmistakable highlight of this set was guitarist Robert Quigley, who played agile, noteworthy licks and delivered a walk-off, behind-the-back solo with the guitar propped on his shoulders. Quigley’s distinguished playing earned him Best Guitarist honors.
Broadneck’s pure metal band Revolta ended the first half of the six-hour Battle, unleashing a furious, screaming performance under red lights. It was difficult to listen to, though the sheer hostility became a curiosity. Revolta, who shattered a guitar as part of last year’s act, boasted the strongest cheering section.
Rock Five More Ways
North County High’s In Dead Last contributed with a stellar hard rock set. Led by the dark vocals of Rick Orzechowski who spent much time crouching at the edge of the stage Dead Last proved itself wrong, winning fourth place to finish in the money for North County’s music department.
Key School’s September First added another set of fairly conventional rock, though the band did a better than average job of acting like they were on stage for an audience.
St. Mary’s High’s … And Sometimes Why refocused the crowd with a straightforward, mature set of energetic rock and roll. With Nick Cintron belting vocals, Allison Tullier reappearing on bass, John Hobgood playing drums and Bobby Crutchley guitar, the quartet claimed first place.
“Going into it,” Hobgood said, “I didn’t really see it as a competition. All the bands were good, but they didn’t seem to have a lot over us.”
Hobgood and Crutchley played last year under the name Pompeii Graffiti with keyboardist Cara Santin, who has since graduated. After joining with Nick Cintron and picking up Allison Tullier mid-September, the band had played four shows. The Eastport Democratic Society hosts them Jan. 26 at its bimonthly teen concert series (525 State St.: 410-263-2022).
Playing 10th, Severna Park’s Stockyard defined their performance with thoroughly planned comedic bits, winning them both Best Stage Presence and third place.
Finishing the night was Plan B from Old Mill High School, playing a dry grunge set with a cover of The Master Plan.
“Every band was good,” said Lewis Poretz, who was joined on the judging panel by five diverse musical pros: Rob Timm, WRNR personality; Bruce Smith, president of Dejamuse Media Network; Jeremy Hayes, owner of Digital Dreams Studio; Sean O’Neill, booking agent; and J. Ernst Green, artistic director of The Annapolis Chorale.
Poretz, musician and owner of Premier Mortgage, received special recognition for his support of the event. “It was very close between the top two bands,” he said.
Sam Farmer follows the memorable Matt Pugh as Bay Weekly’s Battle of the Bands reviewer.