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Rock the Vote

music_BattleOfBandsLocal musicians vie for the 3rd annual Teen Battle of the Bands title
When teen librarian Matt Lorenzo realized in 2009 that many of his friends at the Branciforte Library played music together, he decided they needed a place to showcase their talent. After asking the library for sponsorship, Lorenzo created a Myspace page to generate interest, asked local businesses to donate recording time and music equipment for prizes, then found merchants to donate to a raffle—soon, the Santa Cruz Public Library Teen Battle of the Bands was born.

Flash forward two years and the battle is still going strong, with attendance skyrocketing from 300 spectators during its pilot year, to 700 in 2010. This year’s battle goes down on July 23, at the City of Santa Cruz parking lot, next to the Central Library, and will be judged by local musicians, Stormy Strong and Alan Heit of the White Album Ensemble, plus Spilly Chili from Community TV.

Saturday’s competitors—ages 12-21—include battle veterans reggae-blues sextet Funky Dosage, pop-punk outfit Blue Weekend and upbeat rockers Almost Chaos, plus new additions to the contest: jazz-funk band Grae's Academy, rock ’n’ roll outfit Lifewire, and pop-rockers Urban Theory.

Since winning last year’s competition, Funky Dosage has taken its groovy licks and rhythm section from Kuumbwa Jazz to the Monterey Jazz Festival—sharing the stage with some of the most influential musicians in the genre. “It was fun performing for our friends,” says lead guitarist, Nick Wallace, of last year’s battle. “We had no idea after we played that we were going to win—it was cool to see that people really liked us.”

But the hard work doesn’t stop there. Wallace, a Cabrillo College music major, praises Funky Dosage’s youngest member, 13-year-old Cameron Smith, for his consistent devotion to the craft: “[He’s] worked really hard to get where he is. He plays guitar every day for hours and hours.”

Also committed to fine-tuning their music are the members of Blue Weekend, who recently opened for local psychobillies Stellar Corpses at The Catalyst. Unwavering in their efforts to revive chugging palm mutes and guitar anthems, the band’s song, “Leaving to Please,” encapsulates their mission: “At least I have control ... I will not forget my headstrong style.” With plans for a Bay Area/Sacramento tour, it seems their dream of restoring the glory of pop-punk is well under way.

The youngest band participating this weekend—barely surpassing the minimum age requirement—may be the most dedicated group around. Nationally recognized by School Jam USA as one of the “top 10 teen bands” in the country, Almost Chaos played more than 100 gigs last year, are about to release their second album, and have raised more than $40,000 for local schools and charities.

While each band works on projects of its own, one uniting factor bonds them all: most contestants have attended Kummbwa Jazz Camp to study music theory. Blue Weekend's lead guitarist Austin Corona explains why: “I like to widen my variety of playing. I go to figure out all the jazz chords and different ways to solo. I like to switch it up, bring one genre of music to another.”

Like Corona's cross-genre playing, this community of musicians is comfortable sharing members. Wallace's brother Ty, for instance, plays drums for Funky Dosage and Blue Weekend. Young Smith plays guitar with Almost Chaos. And finally, Almost Chaos' Jose Picazo used to play bass with Blue Weekend. “Everything just kind of circulates in the music scene,” says Rory Freeman, vocalist/guitarist of Blue Weekend.

Asked how Blue Weekend believes it will fair Saturday, Freeman says, “We’re gonna be practicing, but I feel really confident about it.” Win or lose, just like founder Matt Lorenzo, these kids don't see music as work. “I'm lucky to be doing what I love,” says Wallace. To them, this competition is an outlet for honing their musical aspirations: “We thank the library a lot for hosting this show because we love playing it every year,” says Corona. “They should keep doing it every year."

With three new groups competing, and great prizes—including recording and rehearsal time, plus music supplies—to boot, this year’s battle is one worth cheering for.


The Teen Battle of the Bands takes place from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, July 23, at the parking lot next to the Central Library, 224 Church Street, Santa Cruz. No Cover.

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