As Travis Dennis (Col ’12), singer and guitarist of the band Superlift, looked out into the crowd of students gathering at UVA’s Battle of the Bands, he was surprised and thrilled to see people waving homemade neon signs that read “Superlift.” Though it took some time for the audience to warm up to the new band, the fans’ excited reactions “made it all worthwhile,” Dennis says.
“I’d definitely say it was one of the better atmospheres that we’ve played in,” Dennis says of the show. “The judges commented on the excitement of the crowd more than once.” Though Superlift didn’t win, the enthusiasm at the event “really brought us together and gave us reassurance that we’re on the right track,” Dennis says.
Superlift, which describes its musical style as “dance rock,” was one of five bands in the annual Battle of the Bands, held Feb. 20 in the Student Activities Building. Also competing in the event were Astronomers, Los Fusionistas, Pompadour and St. Gods. Now in its sixth year, the Battle of the Bands features some of the University’s best student acts competing for a chance to open for a major recording artist during UVA’s Springfest in April.
After each band played a three-song set, Pompadour was selected as the winner of this year’s contest. Judges ranged from a UVA music professor to a local radio personality.
Jacob Wolf, a Charlottesville music blogger who served as one of the judges, says that he was impressed by the talent and musical diversity of the participants. “I wouldn’t say that any two of the bands sounded alike,” Wolf said of the musical styles, which ranged from electro-pop to indie rock.
Wolf also said that the format presents a bit of a challenge to the musicians. The bands are often new and unfamiliar to some of the audience, so it can be difficult at first to rev up the crowd. “It’s really hard to step up and own the stage and demonstrate a band’s overall awesomeness in a three-song set,” Wolf says.
Although the initial atmosphere might have been somewhat reserved, “Once the show got started, people got really into it,” says Alex Geralnick (Col ’12), program coordinator for the show.
Jeff Doyle (Col ’10) of Pompadour enjoyed playing for a larger audience than usual. “We usually don’t get to play for such a large crowd, and it is always nice to see new faces staring back at you from the front row,” he says.
Past winners—Parachute, Sons of Bill, Tim Be Told—have found that the event opened the door to even larger crowds and broader success.
“It’s actually amazing to think that this one event launched the beginning of our music career,” says Tim Ouyang (Arch ’07) of Tim Be Told, the 2008 winner. “Venues in Charlottesville and beyond started opening their doors to us, and today we are touring all around the country.”
Parachute, which won in 2005 under the name Sparky’s Flaw, has achieved success on an international scale. Parachute’s lead singer, Will Anderson (Col ’08), remembers the event as a major turning point. “Winning was really the catalyst for a huge upturn in our local exposure and awareness around UVA and led to more crowds at our show, if only out of curiosity to check out the band that won it,” he says.
Despite the high stakes, the musicians tend to be supportive and light-hearted. “We had either shared the stage or the classroom with members from every other band playing that night, which made it like an extended show with your friends,” says Doyle.
The Battle of the Bands promises to be a fixture on UVA’s music scene for years to come. “Given that each year’s show has been better than the last,” Lehrman said, “I don’t see why the tradition would stop anytime soon.”