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.