When it comes to the first week of classes at a school well-known for music, what better way to kick off Belmont’s school year than a Battle of the Bands?
The fifth annual family-friendly music festival will feature student bands and a special performance from alumni band Betcha this Saturday on the lawn.
To switch things up this year, the event’s hosts from the Showcase Series picked eight finalists, but the final lineup of four bands will be decided through public voting. Wednesday through midnight on Thursday, students, alumni, family and friends can all vote for their favorite band to take the Battle of the Belmont Bands stage.
The winner of the competition will be chosen by a panel of industry professionals, but you can vote for your favorite of the following finalists here.
Indie-alternative outfit Secondhand Sound will use their varied backgrounds to bring a unique sound to the Battle of the Bands stage.
“We’re not trying to find a sound that’s already out there. We’re trying to go for our own thing so we can be ourselves,” said lead singer and guitarist Sawyer Estok.
With two band members from California and another two from Maryland, the band finds influence from across the country. Upon returning to Belmont, they plan to practice every night leading up to their performance.
“We already practice a lot, but this gives us more of a reason,” Estok said. “It’s a good platform to get our name out to not only the incoming freshmen, but the bigger industry names that are associated with Belmont.”
Their high-energy performance will showcase songs from their newest EP, “Words to Make You Stay.” Their recent East Coast tour gave them plenty of opportunities to streamline their live sets.
“I hope we win, I hope my strings don’t break, and if both happen, I’ll be happy,” Estok said.
Their laid-back confidence extends to their attitude toward competition.
“There’s always big bands that come out of Belmont,” Estok said. “So wouldn’t you want to say that you voted for that band at Battle of the Bands?”
Instead of treating Battle of the Bands as a cutthroat competition, alt-pop band Jungle Tooth want to use the opportunity to network and strengthen their skills.
“This is a great opportunity to meet new bands, introduce ourselves and brush arms with people on the same track,” said Joey Corso, the band’s bassist. “Belmont showcases are a fantastic opportunity to get an experience that takes most bands years to get to.”
After finishing up a summer tour, the band members were encouraged by friends to apply in order to get their name out. The tight-knit group finds inspiration from a wide range of genres, with each member bringing something different to the table.
“We’ve been through a lot — our band is definitely like a family,” Jungle Tooth’s lead singer and guitarist Adam Riekstins said. “Everything we put into this is just us. We’re not pretending to be something we’re not.”
In short, Jungle Tooth use their different tastes to create a sound of their own. From new wave bands to today’s hip hop, the band blends sounds they like to create a unique and upbeat alt-pop package.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and the music represents that kind of friendship,” Corso said. “We all have a Northern connection, so we love to get up and get Dunkin Donuts and hang out with each other. It’s almost like our moms dropped us off for a playdate.”
Their lighthearted attitude will follow them into Battle of the Bands to help them make the most of the opportunity.
“We’re looking forward to meeting people, making new friends and really looking at this all like a learning experience,” Riekstins said.
McCall and Katareen
Acoustic duo McCall and Katareen plan to bring some fiercely independent femininity to the Battle of the Bands stage.
“Looking at the lineup there are some awesome bands but there aren’t many females on the stage, so we definitely bring some girl power and diversity,” said McCall Chapin. “Last year was a huge learning experience for us and this year we’re ready to come back to show what we’ve got.”
After competing in Battle of the Bands last year, the duo made up of Chapin and Katareen Mohammed learned exactly what it takes to stand out — and they hope to use that knowledge to their advantage.
“We were freshmen when we did Battle of the Bands last year and had no idea what to expect,” Mohammed said. “We had just moved to Nashville, we had just started classes and we were a bit overwhelmed.”
Their set last year featured the duo playing a solely acoustic set, but they plan to amp up their performance this year.
“I think we just learned that we can’t go in there and expect it to just go well without preparation,” Chapin said. “We know now we need a full band to have a sound that people want to listen to and we need to bring the energy on stage.”
Because they don’t normally perform with a band, most of their preparation for Saturday involves rehearsing with a handful of other Belmont students. The addition of other performers will make their folksy, country-pop set that much more immersive.
“We’re very acoustic and country sounding with some pop elements at times,” Mohammed said. “A big influence for us is Marren Morris — we love her and her music and the things she stands for.”
The duo recently wrapped up work on their first album, “Sweet Darling,” set to be released in the fall. Along with gathering votes to play Battle of the Bands, they’re promoting their Kickstarter campaign to finish financing the album.
“I think social media is our biggest help right now,” Chapin said. “And the first day of classes we’ll tell everyone we know and everyone we see, and just annoy everyone about it.”
Entering her senior year, Jendayi Bonds of Charlie Belle hopes their music can bring friends and strangers together on Saturday.
“It’s my last year and I’ve made so many friends along the way that it’d be a great way to connect with my people,” said Bonds. “I don’t need to win, but I want to have a good time and kick off my last year well and be able to make that memory.”
Bonds and her brother Gyasi started performing together almost 14 years ago. This experience of growing up and writing music together gave them opportunities to introduce new ideas to each other and create a dynamic sound.
“He’s the best drummer I’ve ever met,” Bonds said. “And we’re all friends so we’re all coming to the table with a ton of different ideas.”
The siblings will be joined by Lauren Cianci and Matt Ryan for their performance Saturday, and they’ve been doing plenty of check-ins to ensure a great set.
Falling under an alt-pop umbrella, the duo draws from a wide range of influences. Their dad introduced them to hip hop, while their mom listened to more suburb-friendly bands like The Cure and The Strokes, Bonds said.
Growing up in Austin, live performances are nothing new to the duo. They’ve played at South by Southwest multiple times and Austin City Limits twice, Bonds said.
“Our tracks are fun and I want people to hear them, but I think we really shine in live performances,” she said.
More than just a competition, Bonds hopes Saturday’s performances represents Belmont’s diversity and character.
“There are so many talented women at Belmont but I haven’t seen that many play the Battle of the Bands stage,” Bonds said. “I want a bill to reflect the stats of our school.”
The Thing With Feathers
The Thing With Feathers plans on going back to their roots to liven up the Battle of the Bands stage.
The five-person alternative indie band started as a live-show only project and has been playing with their current lineup for about a year. Their performance Saturday aims to recreate that live-show feeling.
“Our performances live have definitely been what’s set us apart,” said lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Daivd Welcsh. “We went so long without having recorded music and playing these shows so it was all a word-of-mouth thing.”
The band started during guitarist Alex Hendricks’ freshman year and the current lineup formed “very organically,” said Hendricks.
Now a senior, Hendriks is excited to bring his band to the Battle of the Bands stage.
“It’s a really cool thing when your name is on that list,” said Hendricks. “It’s like getting nominated for a Grammy!”
Their self-described “funkier Arctic Monkeys mixed with some Coldplay” sound bring lots of guitars and an energetic show that Hendricks guarantees “won’t bum you out.”
If chosen, they plan on playing the two songs they have released as well as a cover.
“It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be dancing. I’m gonna get some people excited. Alex is going to rip away,” said Welsch. “That’s kind of what we do, that’s where we branded this thing.”
Indie-pop group Lonely Vacations plans on bringing a fun and danceable set to the Battle of The Bands stage.
The band began when Baily Smith and Thomas Cummings met in the same Towering Traditions group and shortly began writing together.
Smith and Cummings started asking friends if they wanted to join, and a few line-up shifts later, the Lonely Vacations audiences seen today were formed.
“We’re all influenced by tons of different artists,” said Smith, referencing her own punk influences and other members’ jazz and classic rock influences.
Smith described the band as “very real” and hopes to bring that to the Belmont Showcase stage.
“We just kind of go out there. And we have a good time,” said Smith. “I think that kind of makes our shows really relatable and our music fun. We’re not doing it for anybody else, but we just want to make music because that’s what we do.”
Our Brother George
Although their sound comes from a wide range of influences, Our Brother George’s biggest strength is the chemistry and unity among its members.
“We’ve been making music together for a while, at least for almost two years now,” said Henry Long, the lead vocalist and songwriter. “I mean, all of us have a lot of other projects and a lot of other influences that we draw from.”
The band played the Rock Showcase in spring 2019 but hope to return to the Belmont Showcase stage.
Each of the members have different influences ranging from psychedelic rock to more punk rock sounds along with Long’s country influences.
“When we come together we become more than the sum of our parts,” said Long. “We’re all just striving for the same thing, and it comes together organically from the way that we all kind of decide how we want things to sound.”
Although their albums have ranged from a blues rock and southern rock sound, the genre they’re classified under isn’t a defining factor for them.
“We don’t feel like we’re tied down to being a southern rock band, or just like an indie rock band,” said Long. “We’re just trying to make good music.”
Juke of June
Drawing inspiration from bands like Led Zeppelin, Sublime and Cage the Elephant, Juke of June plans on bringing plenty of lively energy to the Battle of The Bands stage.
The band formed about two years ago when lead vocalist Jackson Hahn met rhythm guitarist Jackson Kilburn in their First Year Seminar class, and the rest came together “piece by piece” said Kilburn.
The band has performed at multiple local shows and even had a short run of dates in Florida, so the Battle of the Bands stage won’t be anything new for these seasoned performers.
Rather than overwhelm listeners with overproduced songs, Juke of June don’t like to have too much going on at once. Their music is, “well blended and familiar, but different,” said Kilburn.
Their main focus is live instrumentals as well as promoting their upcoming EP.
“I think we bring a really true unique raw sound that just gets back to music’s roots,” said Kilburn. “We just released our third single called ‘Coming Home’, and we’re just finishing up an EP that’s going to be out most likely, the second week of September.”
Article written by Katie Knipper and Lydia Fletcher. Photos courtesy of Belmont Showcase Series.