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Lead singer for Deaf Davey and the Win­boxes, junior Mark Naida sings during the CHP Showdown. Nic Rowan | Col­legian

Tomorrow, we’ll put our savior on trial. But tonight, we’re just judging our bands.

“You know how you can tell if a band’s got it — it’s when they warm up,” junior Samuel Potter says as he smokes an American Spirit. “When they hits those first notes, that’s when they prove if they have the talent in their hands.”

Potter flicks away his cig­a­rette butt and walks into the Grange Hall at the Hillsdale County fair­grounds, this year’s location for the Student Activity Board’s Cen­tral­hal­la­palooza Showdown. He meanders and dis­ap­pears into a purple and green crowd of stu­dents getting ready to rock out to eight bands com­peting for a chance to perform for the entire student body this May.

There are about 300 people here tonight, crowded in a barn that’s been con­verted into a dance hall. Some wearing red wrist bands stand in line to get red solo cups full of Oberon Ale gar­nished with orange slices. Others grab pizza slices or another one of the variety of snacks laid out for the event.

SAB Director Anthony Manno is standing on a folding chair, taking pic­tures of the bands on stage. He looks around at the activity and com­ments on the venue.

“We orig­i­nally scheduled this at Broad Street, but since it closed down, we had to do some searching,” he says. “We found this place through the grapevine. A lot of people had their wed­dings here, so we checked it out. In many ways it’s a blessing because we just had to get more cre­ative with the pre­sen­tation.”

Although the Grange Hall really is nothing more than a barn, SAB has wired it up for a rock show similar to the on-campus Welcome Party in Sep­tember or Phi Mu Alpha’s November Battle of the Bands at the Elks Lodge.

When the music kicks in, however, stu­dents begin com­menting on how the venue carries sound.

“This barn is weird for acoustics,” says Meg Prom ’16, pointing up at the ceiling. “I mean there’s no sound­proofing any­where.”

Freshman Jack Duffy cracks a joke about the sit­u­ation.

“We might as well do this thing in College Baptist — it would sound the same,” he says.

But tonight is not about sound quality. Tonight is the musical com­pe­tition of the year. For better or for worse, it’s up to the stu­dents present to decide which three bands are deserving enough to play for the whole school at CHP.

It also happens to be Holy Thursday, the night when Judas betrayed Jesus. Tomorrow the King of the Jews will stand in a Roman Prae­torium while the Roman gov­ernor Pontius Pilate tries to appease a mad crowd. Pilate will offer Jesus, healer of the sick and self-pro­claimed son of God, and then Barabbas, a noto­rious criminal.

At the urging of their elders, the Jews will shout again and again for Barabbas, con­demning the better man to death. The­o­logical impli­ca­tions aside, the decision speaks to the power of peer pressure in a large crowd.

When asked if he thinks CHP is any dif­ferent, junior and lead singer for Deaf Davey and the Wineboxes, Mark Naida chuckles.

“Barabbas only won because he was the only not-Jesus option. I think that’s an important dis­tinction,” he says. “We’re voting about some­thing dif­ferent.”

Naida says the real trick to winning a contest like this is volume.

“Just be louder than everyone else,” he says. “And don’t screw up. That just means keep playing music. It doesn’t sound hard, but it is some­times.”

Another Wineboxer, sophomore Ryan Burns, says he thinks people vote for bands based on a variety of factors aside from pop­u­larity.

“Tech­ni­cally you could subvert the whole thing and say, ‘I’m just going to vote for my friends,’” he says, “but I think people rec­ognize a show of talent at some point … fingers crossed on that one though.”

As Burns fin­ishes speaking, the night’s fourth band, My Dog’s Name Is Keith, fronted by senior Nick Archer, takes the stage. Archer leads the band into a cover of Bowling For Soup’s 2004 hit, “1985” (which is actually a cover of an SR-71 song, if you’re a punk-pop purist). The crowd clearly loves it, because for the first time in the concert, they start rocking out like extras in a low budget teen film — the true Hillsdale style.

Standing behind a candy-covered table, senior Joel Calvert looks at the stage.

“Whoever gives the most blood up there wins,” he says.

And Archer is giving a lot of blood. He’s a huge guy — six eight maybe — but he’s got a falsetto voice, fitting for his setlist: Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta” and Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Going Down.”.

As My Dog’s Name Is Keith fin­ishes “Sugar We’re Going Down,” junior Heather Wood­house runs around in the audience, putting glow sticks in people’s hair. The crowd shouts, “One more song! One more song!” but Archer waves his hand in protest.

As soon as Deaf Davey and the Wine Boxes takes the stage, the crowd’s fervor rises. The Wineboxes won CHP Showdown last year and have played at many college events this year. An eight piece band, they have a full horn section, col­lo­quially known as “the bugle boys” and of course their namesake David Johnson, who always plays with a cig­a­rette tucked behind his ear.

The Wineboxes play their set, which reaches its height in a ren­dition of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ “Son of a Bitch,” a sing-and-clap-along song that that fits Naida’s throaty vocal range. As the audience claps, Burns waves his lit Zippo behind Naida, a sort of ser­enade to himself.

“I get to vote for three bands, but I’m def­i­nitely voting for the Wineboxes because they always put on a good show,” Sophomore Kolbe Conger says.

The band also plays an original com­po­sition, “Coffee Grounds,” fea­turing a chorus where Naida whines out the chorus line, “you are loved,” to the crowd.

A few days beforehand, Naida said this song was important to the band no matter how the concert went.

“We really want to stress the fact that we play original music,” he said.

Naida also com­mented on the fact that many tal­ented musi­cians cannot talk about how their music pleases crowds — they’re too wrapped up in the expe­ri­ential knowledge of their craft to translate any of it into words. He ges­tured to a con­ver­sation between drummer and junior Dean Sin­clair and key­boardist and freshman Carson Waits in the main room of Sinclair’s apartment to make his point.

“You know, some people just like to play songs like that,” Sin­clair said.

“Yeah, that’s so true,” Waits said.

Sin­clair started humming a few bars.

“Oh man, yeah.”

“Yeah — it’s wild.”

But now when musi­cians like Naida, Sin­clair and Waits are up on stage, their fans are gushing with praise.

“It’s such an honor to come back and realize anew how tal­ented your friends are. I didn’t even vote because I couldn’t decide who I wanted,” Amanda Tindall ’16 says. “It was a lot like how I couldn’t decide in the election between Trump and Hillary which one I didn’t like more, but here I can’t decide who I love more.”

For many present, it’s a tough call between the Wineboxes and the band fol­lowing them, The Electric Psy­che­delic Pussycat Swingers Club, led by seniors Andrew Egger and Jake Coonradt.

Egger’s fiancee, senior Grace Link, is running around among fans still enthused by the the Wineboxes per­for­mance, asking “Have any of you voted yet?”

When she hears a no, she shouts, “Vote for him!” pointing up at Egger, who is tuning his guitar.

Link’s exhor­ta­tions are not without base. Egger’s band bangs out a bluesy set, including Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “I Put A Spell On You” and The Beatles’ “Come Together,” whipping up an already excited crowd into a jumping mob in front of the stage.

Late in the show, as she picks the Twix bars out of the candy on the table, junior Jo Kroeker (full dis­closure: she’s the Collegian’s Opinions editor) says even with these per­for­mances, CHP Showdown is an exercise in peer pressure.

“The whole thing is a pop­u­larity contest!” she says, “People just pick their friends.”

Across the room, Naida is about to leave out a door marked with a “Keep Beer Inside!” sign. Turning back toward the blue-lit barn and delivers his final verdict on the nature of CHP Showdown: “Do you want a quote from me? I’ll just say this — it was a good show.”

He walks out the door, and it is night.

  • BradinAZ

    College stu­dents still smoke?

  • Christopher McCaffery

    This is mag­nif­icent