CATAWISSA - The fifth annual Teenage Battle of the Bands will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. June 8 in Cara Park, South Third Street. In case of rain, the event will be held in the Catawissa Fire Hall, S. Fourth St.
The Teenage Battle of the Bands is open to any band in which the majority of members are teenagers. Prizes are awarded to the top two bands: $300 for first place and $100 for second place. This year's event will also feature a solo entertainer category. The best solo entertainer will be awarded $150.
As the entertainment coordinator for Catawissa Borough, Joe Gaughan has been responsible for organizing the Teenage Battle of the Bands for the past five years. Gaughan said the prize money can be used to further the winners' musical interests. "The bands can use the prize money for musical equipment or recording, so it really works out great," he said.
According to Gaughan, the bands are judged by both adult and peer judges. "We have three adult judges that judge all the bands and solo entertainers," Gaughan explained. "Then, when the audience shows up, each person fills out a little ticket and we put all those names in a hat and pull three tickets out for each band. So there are three peer judges along with the three adult judges. Weirdly enough, every year there's really only a one or two point difference between who the kids pick overall and who the judges pick."
According to Gaughan, the overall winner will be given the opportunity to perform at Quaker Steak and Lube restaurant near the Columbia Mall in Bloomsburg. "Steak and Lube has a band outside every Wednesday," Gaughan said. "The winners will get to play the opening set on a Wednesday night in September. It gives them a chance to play in front of more people and a few of the bands have even been hired over there."
Despite the judging and prize-giving, Gaughan said that this is not primarily a competitive event. "In the sense of it being a battle of the bands and there being prizes, it's a competition. But really, music is not a competition. This event is basically done for a night of camaraderie for the kids. It gives them a chance to play music for their peers and for people of all ages. What's really cool is that by the end of the night, after it's all said and done, they're all hanging out with each other and giving each other contact information and starting new musical relationships."
The Teenage Battle of the Bands started in 2008 when Pat Sinclair, who was then mayor of Catawissa, decided to turn his personal tragedy into positive change. "Pat's son was a musician and he died of a drug overdose," Gaughan explained. "Pat wanted to do something to keep the music alive and try to get kids started on a good path. That's what initiated the idea for the first battle of the bands."
Gaughan said the event's original mission will be carried forward this year with a number of anti-drug and alcohol initiatives. "This year we came up with some money from the Columbia County Task Force to get really nice T-shirts for the kids participating in the event," Gaughan said. "They had to sign a paper stating their abstinence from drugs and alcohol to get the shirt. The Battle of the Bands is a musical event, but there's also the aspect of camaraderie and the aspect of encouraging kids to do things without drugs and alcohol. So it's really a multi-faceted event."
Gaughan has recruited three notable personalities from the area to speak to the kids about the importance of staying drug and alcohol-free. "We have Jeremy Hummel, who was the drummer for Breaking Benjamin, and I'm working on getting a total commitment from Aaron Kelly of American Idol. I've also booked Henry Hynoski, who played for the Giants in this year's Super Bowl," Gaughan said.
"All three have been very successful in their fields and they're each giving us a video blurb that we're going to edit and play at the show. The videos will be based around the event and will contain a message about doing their thing without drugs or alcohol. We're still making music the focus of the event, but also trying to keep it on the straight and narrow, so to speak."
Gaughan said the event has grown steadily over the past five years. "Each year we get more people at the event," Gaughan said. "We promote the bands more and they tell their friends, so it's expanded each year. The bands come from further and further away. One year we had a band come all the way from Pottsville and another from Cogan Station. They're from all over the place."
Although this year's band roster still is being finalized, Gaughan was able to share the names of four bands that have confirmed their participation. These include The Velour Fog, from Lewisburg; The Last American Band, from Bloomsburg; Ponzi, from Berwick; and The Steel Wings, from Watsontown.
Gaughan said he has been consistently impressed by the quality and diversity of the bands in past years. "Each year I'm impressed by at least a couple of them," he said. "I think the talent level is really exceptional. What's great is how many different styles of music these kids play. Some of the bands play originals, some are cover bands. They play grunge, jazz, classic rock - all different kinds of music."
The participating bands take the competition seriously, Gaughan said. They want to put on a good show because there aren't many other opportunities to perform with and for their peers in this way. "It's a shame in a way that there aren't more places for the kids to play," Gaughan said. "I've heard more times from more bands from more towns that they're so glad we do this and that they wish their communities would do something like this, that they would host an event where the kids get a chance to play music."
When asked how many people he expected to attend this year's battle of the bands, Gaughan was optimistic. "I hope 2,000," he said, laughing. "Realistically, we've been growing the event every year, so I'd be really happy if 300 people came. Tell everybody to come along and bring a lawn chair. It's a great time."