High School Rocks

High School Rocks: Battle of the Bands

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

This past Sunday the DECC hosted the regions best young musicians in the very successful 2nd annual High School Rocks: Battle of the Bands put on by the Junior Achievement Program.

With fifteen bands performing for 15 minute sets there was plenty of music on display, but the event was more than most could have ever dreamed of with thousands of young fans cheering them on.

“It was amazing,” Kyle Johnson of runner-up band Colmekil (East Range Academy of Technology and Science) said. “It's really a good time and a great chance for small time bands to get a taste of fame. We were very happy to be involved and had a blast.”

Other bands agreed.

“It was really fun,” Kirdan Wenger of The Planets ( International Falls High School) said. “The entire organization of the event was amazing.”

The Planets were a darker band, like many others, but they had an ability to go to the dark side and return in melodic form. Their song, “Biggest Surprise,” was a highlight of the show and their stylized music.

“One day Wilson (Johnson) came up with a random bass line and the song kinda evolved from that,” Wenger said. “We actually wrote the song before John (Sobczynski) joined the band and I realized that a solo duet would be really great for that particular song. As far as darkness in our band, often times there is just me, God, and my feelings… and the best way I can find to express myself is to write it out and put music to it. I want to share my love for music with others and let them know that they aren't the only ones feeling the way they do.”

The winners of the contest, The Bricks ( Marshall High School), also thought the contest will serve them well in the future.

“We love it,” Sam McKinney said. “The battle is one of the greatest things that could happen for young aspiring musicians in Duluth. For many kids, this competition is the highlight of their musical careers. Many of the musicians that play in it don't end up following musical paths, so it’s just a passion… and the battle gives them that chance to "be in the spotlight". It’s a great event and we are very thankful for all of the work Tim Wigchers puts into it. He's a great fellow!”

This was the second annual Battle of the bands put on by Jim Wigchers of the Junior Achievement Program. It took some planning, but eventually this awesome contest began to come together.

“Junior Achievement was looking for a few fundraisers several years ago,” Wigchers said. “After discussing a few ideas we started talking about high schools having an annual battle of the bands or talent show. This took us into a discussion on creating a super battle of the bands and inviting bands representing their high schools from across the region. We met with a few principals to gather information on the contest and asked about concerns or thoughts they had on a band representing their school in a "super event." In just two years High School Rocks has become the "Super Battle of the Bands" we had planned and hoped for.”

It also helps to have professionals running the sound and working with the event. Ed Cherney, a judge for the event, won a Gammy Award and TEC award. He has worked with artists like Bette Midler, Bonnie Raitt, Wynonna, Jann Arden, Jackson Browne, Keb' Mo, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, to name just a few. Another judge, Louis Andre Fischer, has 40 platinum and 25 gold albums in his resume.

Eddie Mapp, who did the sound mixing for the contest, is best know for his work touring with the band Evanescence for the last four years.

The great sound system is what many bands look forward to about the battle. Sure their second time in the contest coming in second wasn’t what Colmekill had hoped for, but getting another chance this year to compete was a great thrill.

“The Bricks and Colmekill were the only two bands to play again this year,” Johnson (Colmekill) said. “We were super happy to be back, and it definitely helped being in it last year. Last year we were all really nervous and I think it may have affected our performance a bit. This year we kind of knew the drill and were really just there to have fun.”

With a name like Colmekill I had to ask where it came from, Johnson explained that the idea came from his 12th grade English class.

“We were reading Macbeth and our singer at the time had decided he wanted to write the lyrics of “blood brings blood,” which was the first song we wrote. It was meant to be as kind of a summary of the plot to the play. So we were going through the story and came across Colmekill, which was an ancient island of the coast of Scotland where they used to bury their dead kings… and we figured that was a pretty badass name,” Johnson said.

One thing that really made Colmekill stand out were the giant mohawks that the band was sporting. It also helped to liven up their stage presence.

“I have had a mohawk off and on since about 8th grade,” Johnson said. “I've always been super into punk rock and the whole punk scene so I've always been into mohawks and all that fun stuff. As for Gary (McKeever), he's always wanted a mohawk and one night at our rhythm guitarist Cord’s (Tocchio) house we were sitting around after practice and talked Gary into getting one for 30 bucks. He decided to keep it for the DECC show. As far as the performance, we just got our new singer Nate Wilman a little over a month ago, so we really hit it hard over the past month. We would jam pretty much any time we possibly could. Truthfully though, we just finished the 3rd song we played the morning of the show. We had the music down for a while, but Nate finished the vocals that morning. It was pretty nerve racking playing that one but I think it worked out pretty well. We never really worked on stage presence at all, as we were more concerned with finishing the songs (ha-ha)… But we knew Nate was a really energetic guy and he really gets us all pumped up to play. This was actually our first show with Nate so it was a lot of fun and we're really happy with his performance.”

First place winners, The Bricks, were also in the contest last year. They found the extra year helped them to be veterans of the event.

“Well the first and I believe the biggest difference (from last year) was the addition of our two new guitar players, Jason Munns and Reuben Verdoljak,” McKinney said. “Since their addition to our band, we have taken on a whole new sound and have branched out our musical abilities to incorporate every style from chill jazz to edge metal. They work together phenomenally and have brought a lot to our band. Apart from them, we were much more solid coming into the battle this year and I personally believe our songs were much better in performance and writing. We just went out there, had fun, and did our best, and it just happened to work out. We are very thankful for being able to compete in this event, let alone win it.”

The Bricks played some impressive indie-styled songs, and their sound propelled them to the top.

“There are always many reasons and thoughts that go into choosing a set list. It’s especially difficult when you only have 15 minutes to define your sound to a large audience. When choosing the set for the battle, we wanted to do two things: feature Lauren (Verhel) on vocals and blow everyone away with our incredible guitar duo of Jason and Reuben. The first song, My Little Drug, did exactly that. It is a great song for Lauren to sing on, and it had a nifty little guitar battle in the middle to liven things up. It also featured our band’s ability to combine jazz and funk techniques with an upbeat rock feel. “Driven”, the second song, was chosen because of the catchy guitar riff and the “Freebird”-like guitar solo at the end. Finally, the last song, “Heart of Stone”, was just a great song that we felt featured everyone in the band in there own separate ways,” McKinney said.

With their win there are many prizes for the Bricks, including a professional recording session and local air play for one of their songs. The top four bands play their own show at Grandma's Sports Garden on May 18th as well.

It is not over for The Bricks as they look forward to an album release in the next month or so.

“Every member of our band is musically destined in terms of careers,” McKinney said. “It’s what we do, what we love, and what were good at. If something happens in our favor, then cheers to that!”

One band that I found particularly entertaining was Beyond Monday from ProctorHigh School. They had this punk meets Tenacious D type of sound with excellent stage presence. Their lead singer, Angie Lindberg-Livingston, has great vocals and ties the entire band together. There were moments when a member of the band brought out cymbals that were played by the other band members. At another time the guitar player, Ben Anderson, was jumping around while slashing licks on his guitar.

“We had a few songs we wrote handy,” Lindberg-Livingston said. “Originality is one of the categories with the judges, so we fine tuned those 2 songs for the show -- and “Sweet Child” (GNR) is just a crowd pleaser. I've taken vocal lessons for a number of years, training with a lot of Broadway material. I owe a lot of my presence to my teacher Dana Copiskey.”

About the contest itself Lindberg-Livingston said, “It was nothing less than amazing. Occasional stresses here and there - aside from the stress of play for a few thousands of people - but for the most part the event went rather well and we had a fantastic time.”

Amauros, who placed in the top four and are from Hermantown, loved the experience. They were a bit disappointed that they didn’t win or make the top few spots, but needless to say they found their voices on stage.

“We weren't disappointed because we placed in the top four,” the band said. “But believe it or not, without being egocentric, we felt like second or third place would have been more suitable, and of course these come from the words of other people that supported us. We probably won't be playing in next year's battle though because we all will have graduated by then, and we want our friend’s band to play next year from Hermantown.”

Closing out the show was the band 19:11 from Denfeld High School. They were a hard, metal influenced group, but ended the show on a high note.

“Well, the songs we played were our most popular originals, and it showed both sides of this band: Fast and heavy, Slow and soft,” Brandon Waters said. “We were not really surprised that we didn’t win, we kinda expected it. I mean, who’s gonna let a metal band win, right?”

Visit www.highschoolrocks.org for more information and links to many of the band’s MySpace pages.

For more pictures online visit www.thefountainheads.com.

The Bricks

Colmekill (Eveleth)

Backstage right before the winners were announced.


Colmekill (Eveleth)

Colmekill (Eveleth)

Colmekill (Eveleth)

HydroWizard (Superior High School)

HydroWizard (Superior High School)

The Planets

Beyond Monday (Proctor High School)

Beyond Monday (Proctor High School)

HydroWizard (Superior High School)