ImageOn Tuesday night, October 7th, this armchair critic attended Middletown High School North's Battle of the Bands, primarily to support my son, a High School North student, and a guitarist for one of the competing bands, Saturday Morning Cartoon. Additionally, I hoped to enjoy some good music.

Sometimes, I did; sometimes, I didn't.

There were six acts scheduled to compete on Tuesday evening: Unnamed, Saturday Morning Cartoon, Pontius Autopilot and the Shadowland Bandits, Hallowed Redemption, The Comeback Season, and The Callout, all to be judged by a panel of North teachers, based on a scale of one to ten in five different categories (style, stage presence, lyrics, musical ability, and overall performance). If originality had been included in the judging criteria, the results of the competition might have been different.

The Battle of the Bands presented tremendous talent; however, on Tuesday evening, some performers unknowingly proved the paradox of adolescence: in seeking to be different, self-expressive, and non-conforming, some bands emerged conformist carbon copies of one another (or of the professional band, Blink-182), with similar pop-punk sound and presentation, and an identical stage presence. The Call Out, and the winning band, The Comeback Season, displayed unbelievable energy, and exuded "stage presence" and "musical ability" all over the place, but they were almost indistinguishable from one another.  

Thankfully, some of the event's contestants dared to be different.

The musical duo, Unnamed, with Ryan Wendaur on guitar, and Lauren Fogarty on vocals/guitar, began the evening on a high note. Seated on chairs, Wendaur and Fogarty were a charming pair, with a refreshingly different, pure sound. It was obvious that they had something to say, and wanted to be heard through their music. Saturday Morning Cartoon, with Bobby Spitzfaden on bass/vocals, Matt Mikolay on guitar, and Brandon Wood on drums, performed original material, in a most original way. The skillful "guitar cross" of Spitzfaden and Mikolay (yes, I'm his mom) was greeted by audience cheers, and their signature song, "Where's Waldo," was well received, as usual. But the most talented band featured, and surprisingly and disappointingly not the winners of the competition, was Pontius Autopilot and the Shadowland Bandits.

The Shadowland Bandits (Barry Travis on bass, Joe Callandrillo on trumpet, Greg Judd on guitar, Erik Myhrer on drums, and Jeff Onorato on sax) were great fun to watch. Their act, though completely instrumental, without lyrics or vocals, was totally lyrical in presentation. They were five guys on stage, playing music together (for love of music, not the spotlight), in obvious enjoyment, with personality and flair. The Shadowland Bandits were the only band with trumpet and saxophone, a different element that enhanced their sound and originality. In my humble opinion, these guys were robbed.

That being said, congrats to Middletown High School North for annually opening their stage to young performers, thereby promoting the arts, and encouraging musical development and expression. Congrats to Hallowed Redemption, The Comeback Season, and The Call Out for remarkable musical ability and impressive energy.

Above all, however, kudos to Unnamed, Saturday Morning Cartoon, and Pontius Autopilot and the Shadowland Bandits, for daring to be different.

You guys are the winners.

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Ryan Wendaur and Lauren Fogarty

Ryan Wendaur and Lauren Fogarty were a refreshing presence at High School North's Battle of the Bands.

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Saturday Morning Cartoon

photo by Eden Buenaventura

Saturday Morning Cartoon, with Brandon Wood on drums, Bobby Spitzfaden on bass/vocals, and Matt Mikolay on guitar, performed original material.

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Barry Travis and Pontius Autopilot and the Shadowland Bandits performed with polished flair.