Twice a year, the Vienna, VA club Jammin Java hosts the Mid-Atlantic Band Battle and, 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 battle to choose the best of the best of local music.
This past Friday night (February 28) the finalists from the 10th Mid-Atlantic Band Battle competition held in January came together to see who would take the Grand Prize, which includes a headlining show at Jammin Java, studio time at Cue Recording Studios in Falls Church, business card or poster designs and printing, and a cash prize of $2,500. While only one band can grab that top honor, the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers also get some goodies, like gift certificates, studio rehearsal time and a professional photo shoot. Combine that with the exposure of playing to a packed club and everyone, in a way, is a winner.
This time around, the finalists were DTMG, The Christian Lopez Band, CODA and Beggars Made Believers. (You can read a quick Q&A with each band at Jammin Java's online blog posting for February 21.) Ladies and gentlemen, here's how it all shook out when the battle dust settled...
Fourth place: Beggars Made Believers
Led by the keyboards and vocals of founder Sly Samudre, Beggars Made Believers is a faith-based rock band which has been together about four years. The band's personal songs of redemption are catchy, pop-based testimony to the trio's commitment to bring Christian rock out of the church and into the clubs. Beggars Made Believers have been in the studio for the past year and hope to release a debut album later this year.
Third Place: CODA
A young band whose band members are all still in their teens, CODA is a Maryland-based quartet which has studied its Led Zeppelin songbook well, playing with equal parts power and hooks. The group's original material is good enough to make listeners think they're hearing obscure B-sides from classic rockers, and the lead singer knows how to sing/scream with control and good pitch.
First Runner-up: DTMG
As the night's host, Nathan Ihara (from local favorites We Were Kings) noted, the name DTMG sounds like some kind of designer drug, but it's really shorthand for the Dave Tauler Music Group. A true party band, DTMG filled both the stage and the room with a big, danceable sound made by six players and two female singers. Along with originals, the band mixed some funky cover tunes into its set, including Chuck Brown's "Bustin' Loose" and even Psy's "Gangnam Style."
Tauler is no stranger to success, having won an Amateur Night at Harlem, NY's Apollo Theater and a John Lennon Songwriting Contest award. Given the response of the crowd this night, DTMG will have other successes in future.
Having previously judged a few Jammin Java Band Battles, I can say that the competition often comes down to a very tight margin in a scoring process that considers elements like songwriting, musicianship and crowd response. With all the fine local talent on display, I didn't envy the judges having to pick just one top dog, but on this night, I heartily agreed with the group's final nod.
First Place/Grand Prize: The Christian Lopez Band
A musician since the age of five, Christian Lopez has been fronting bands since he was 15. His last outfit, Joe Taxi, played a slot on the 2012 Van's Warped tour and won a previous band battle at the 2013 Blue Ridge Music Festival. Lopez may have also looked familiar to some in the crowd as a former contestant in season 12 of "American Idol," where judge Jennifer Lopez commented on the passion in his voice.
That passion was on good display as Lopez and his band - drummer Mike Silver, bassist/producer Dominic Valentine and vocalist/banjo player Chelsea McBee - ripped through a set of alternative folk/country rock that offered energy and emotion, along with a fun cover of John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy."
The West Virginia natives are currently working on a debut album. With new music in development, and the grand prize promotional goodies to back it up, one hopes that the Mid-Atlantic region will be be seeing, and hearing, more from the Christian Lopez Band soon.
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