Four Iowa bands competed Saturday night at Wooly's in Des Moines for a spot at the Summer Camp Music Festival. Mighty Shady, Best of Fools, Natural Oil, and Come Unity took the stage at the Summer Camp: On the Road Battle of the Bands to try and win a shot at joining a 2014 Summer Camp lineup that already includes the likes of Primus, Bassnectar, Moe, Umphrey's McGee, Yonder Mountain String Band, and the Trey Anastasio Band. Every fan in attendance got one vote, and in an incredibly close contest, Mighty Shady eeked out a win by a mere 10 votes.
Mighty Shady led off the night at 8:30 p.m. The Des Moines groove rockers came in as favorites to win, having won last year's Waka Winter Classic to earn a spot at Wakarusa. (They attempt to repeat that feat next week in the 2014 competition at Vaudeville Mews.) However, the band sported a different lineup last year, so many fans in attendance were not sure that victory would be that easy. As it turned out, the new lineup was better than the old, but the competition on Saturday was much stiffer than the competition at last year's Waka Winter Classic battle. The band played a laid back set of their funk- and reggae-infused rock staples that had the slow-arriving crowd dancing. While Mighty Shady put on a good show, the band may have won their narrow victory on popularity as much as anything else—as many of the voters arrived after Mighty Shady had already wrapped things up and began to mingle with the crowd.
Up next at 9:50 p.m., Des Moines jam band Best of Fools took the stage. The band's sax-infused rock sound and charisma instantly won over the crowd. Songs like "Count Me In", "Dirty Diane", "Night on the Town", and "Fire in the Sky", the title track of their August 2013 release, were fan favorites. Best of Fools left the stage looking like the "leader in the clubhouse", but ended up finishing a close third, just 15 votes out of first.
At 11:10 p.m., Eastern Iowa product Natural Oil made their Des Moines debut. The band spent most of last year working on their self-titled debut EP, which came out in the fall. Natural Oil's lack of name recognition in Des Moines, combined with a sound that was less mainstream than the other bands, put them at a distinct disadvantage from the beginning. A trio of daring, melodic, almost rock opera-like tunes opened their set, and failed to connect with the mostly younger crowd. However, Natural Oil rebounded with a number of more upbeat songs to close out their set, including the night's best vocal performance, turned in by Gina James on the Evanescence-like "Creeper". All in all, Natural Oil put in a solid performance, but they just had too much working against them with Saturday's crowd.
Come Unity finished off the night, taking the stage at 12:30 a.m. The Indianola reggae rockers quickly got the crowd, which had thinned out a bit by this point, grooving on the dance floor. Like Best of Fools, Come Unity had a great rapport with the crowd—even receiving a round of shots from members of the crowd. The reefer-soaked lyrics on "Thanks Miss Jane" and other songs, combined with the band's ultra-tight instrumentals and vocals kept them in the running for a win, but Come Unity ultimately fell ten votes shy of pulling it out and had to settle for a close second.
So, Mighty Shady will head to Summer Camp in May, and possibly Wakarusa in June, if they can pull off a repeat at the 2014 Waka Winter Classic next Saturday. Don't forget to check out photos of all four bands from the Summer Camp battle of the bands in the nearby slideshow.