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Jammin' Java Mid-Atlantic Band Battle 11 - July 1, 2014

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Twice a year, the Vienna, Virginia club Jammin Java hosts the Mid-Atlantic Band Battle. After scores of regional acts submit music, a group of approximately 24 are selected to compete over the course of four nights. The top act from each night is then invited back to meet in a final battle to choose the top dog of the area music scene.

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This past week, the preliminaries for the 11th Mid-Atlantic Band Battle began with competition held on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Because of special events for the Fourth of July holiday, the final preliminary will be this Sunday (July 6) and the winners will return on August 22 for the finals.

The Mid-Atlantic Band Battle (or MABB) doesn't use an audience vote to determine the winner, but a judges panel that scores each band on criteria like musicianship and songwriting. I was delighted to be asked to judge on Tuesday and Wednesday and took photos on both nights, shooting from the judges' table, so the photos in the slideshow are, admittedly, only as good as my telephoto can handle. (Look for the report on Wednesday night's show coming soon.)

The MABB attracts musicians of all types, but this particular night of seven acts was mostly a sampling of guitar rock styles, with accents of folk and some harder edges in the mix. Sunbox, a Richmond band who opened the show, and Brightwork, who came on sixth, were both classic four-man rock outfits.

The second act of the night, Tandem, a quintet with male and female lead shared vocals, made a great impression in the folk-pop style of Of Monsters and Men. The fifth group, Save the Arcadian, also had a folky vibe with the added interest of mandolin and fiddle. And the evening's last act, Jimmy Lee, was a blues guitarist who fronted his quartet with some blistering leads.

The key lesson learned tonight - if at first you don't succeed, keep on rocking. Two of the bands had prior Band Battle experience, having appeared in the January 2014 preliminaries. Static, a hard rocking quintet with a female lead vocalist, are a young band in the true sense of the work - one of the members just graduated middle school!

Skyward, another five piece with a female player on keyboards and occasional vocals, have obviously been working hard since their last battle. The band's sound - with ringing guitars and catchy choruses ("Sing It Back" had an instant hook) - has tightened considerably. In fact, they walked away with the top honors for the night and will back for the August 22 finals.

You can buy tickets online to see the four acts that have won their nights so far - Lost Philosophers (Monday), Skyward (Tuesday), Shade Parade (Wednesday) - and the final act to be decided at Sunday's show. The Grand Prize for the ultimate victor includes a headlining show at Jammin Java, studio time at Cue Recording Studios in Falls Church with producer Jim Ebert, a professional photo shoot from sponsor Act of Light studio, and a cash prize of $2,500.

Check it out for a fun night out and a listen to some of the region's best local talent. Hope to see you then!

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