by Spike Jordan
Photo of Derek Johnson from Raging Derilects courtesy Lucyann Kerry, CSC Public Relations professor
Since I'd been out of the area for the past five years, I didn't know what to expect when I headed for the Chadron State College student center ballroom to see a battle of the bands Friday, April 15, featuring groups from Kimball, Scottsbluff, Gordon, Chadron and Alliance. But outside, within earshot of a band already playing, I knew two things: My watch was running late; and whatever preconceived notions I had would soon be smashed with the tonal resonance of Western Nebraska-made music.
The show was co-sponsored by the school's Public Relations Club and Chadron's 107.7 KBPY, which helped organize the event and fund T-shirts. A good-sized crowd watched eight bands alternate sets between two stages. Here's what happened.
Known by Name (Chadron)
Taner Sherlock – Lead Vocals
Justen McConnell - Drums
Josh Wilhelm – Guitar
Erik Wedel – Bass
With a name taken from Psalms 147:4, “He knows the number of the stars; he calls them all by name,” Known by Name keeps this as inspiration, playing a handcrafted blend of Christian alt-metal — bands like Righteous Vendetta, Skillet, and Thousand Foot Krutch serving as nfluences. On personal motivations, the band members aim to open the eyes of people who wouldn’t normally step into a church, and open the minds of people who wouldn’t normally pick up a Bible. Through faith-based lyrics, they look to reach people, and although I am not really that huge of a fan of the genre, I think that the talent these gentlemen presented was not the tired cliché when people think of faith-inspired music.
Known by Name operated in a subtle manner that leaves room for the listener to meditate upon the “Good News,” rather than having it forced upon them — something I find commendable. Purveyors of Christian rock should outside the grain and enjoy the delightful timbre of Known by Name, you can catch them playing from time to time at Chadron Community Church.
Skyblue Pink (Chadron)
Nich Cartella – Bass
Wesley Roberts – Drums
Nathan Brodrick – Guitar
Jasmine Spencer – Vocals
Skyblue Pink, a name that conjures a definition of the indefinable. It’s as serene as the Western Nebraska sky at sunset, and proved to be a compliment to the other bands. As everything must have balance in the universe, Skyblue Pink was the Yin to the Yang of the rest of the hardcore and heavier sets that were competing. I enjoyed the set very much, and the influences of Muse and Incubus showed through, serving as a back drop for Ms. Spencer’s beautiful vocals. I’m considering myself lucky to say they grace the Panhandle with their presence.
The Unemployed Gigolos (Chadron)
Jerik Victory – Guitar
Dustin Victory – Drums
John Vicotry – Bass
The Unemployed Gigolos played classic rock covers. With normal drummer Karston Victory not present, the band decided to not bill themselves under their regular name — Victory Underground. That aside, this band put on a mind-blowing performance, as was evident by the sweat-soaked condition they were in when they stepped off stage. They're great showmen — Jerik Victory played a solo with the guitar strung behind his shoulders! And they continued to play flawlessly well on through when the contest managers had given them the red light. I was thoroughly impressed by the show they put on, and you could really feel it from the crowd’s response that they tore up the stage during their set. They are definitely a band that is best enjoyed for their live performance and tight cohesion.
The Raging Derilects (Scottsbluff)
Kyle Sasse – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Darin Jelnick – Drums, Vocals
Derek Johnson – Bass, Vocals
During my brief interview with the Raging Derelicts, Sasse asked, since I was recording, if it was OK if he cursed, and I can understand why he asked.
Being open to the public, the contest had to be G-rated in terms of content. Luckily, the raunchy attitude behind Raging Derilects' song lyrics translated to a kick-ass set full of filthy, hard, punk and blues-driven metal that I found akin to Psychobilly.
“We’ve described ourselves as ‘evil classic rock’, or if James Hetfield and Lemmy Killmister had babies,” Sasse said.
I'm looking to see them again in a uncensored environment. With songs covering bad sex to booze, head down to the Bluffs and see them kick down the doors, and drink down the bars. I encourage anyone in the area to come out and get in on it.
Hellfire Inc. (Kimball)
Jordan Autrey – Bass
Greg Brooks – Guitar
Jake McIntosh – Vocals
Carson Sisk – Guitar
Brian Thacker – Drums
Coming from the southwestern corner of the Panhandle, Hellfire Inc. travelled the furthest among all the bands on the bill.
“We might as well be in Wyoming. Wait, my driver’s license still says Nebraska,” one of the band members commented.
Hellfire Inc. played an awesomely heavy set of metal with melodic undertones. They continued rocking, unflinchingly, through an equipment hiccup, and finished strong with the distance they traveled equating in full to the aggressiveness they put out on stage. It really showed dedication, and I find it astounding they traveled that far just to be heard in a 15-minute set. The band commented they never have problems scoring venues, but getting listener turnout is quite difficult. But I would like to change that. If you are traveling down I-80, schedule it so you can stop in Kimball and check them out, and I’ll make the two-hour drive down and join you and buy you a shot of Jager.
Chronic Carnage (Gordon)
Justin Child – Drums
Brandon Child – Vocals
Mike Russell – Rhythm Guitar
Mike “Doobie” DuBray – Lead Guitar
When I was doing some research before the show, I had to double check what I was seeing — a death metal band … from Gordon? How long had I been away from the area? How is this possible? I came to this conclusion — the frozen, barren plains of Scandinavia that inspired the original death metal pioneers are almost a mirror of the frozen, barren plains of the Sandhills.
Their set proved to incredibly BRUTAL, with the machine gunnery of Justin on drums, Brandon’s gnarly growling vocals, and Mike Russell’s rhythm laying down a beautiful path of sonic destruction for Doobie’s melodic work on lead. And they managed to pull it off, despite the absence of a bassist (which they are currently looking for, so if you have idle hands, I would put them to work.) Small towns like Gordon are impossible to score gigs in (neighbors tend to complain about the noise), however Chronic Carnage enjoys playing shows across the state with other Nebraska bands, like Rising Foe. If you’re a metal fan in the Panhandle, catch them May 16 at the Terry Carpenter Center in Terrytown(nestled between Gering and Scottsbluff) they share the bill with Hemlock(Las Vegas) and Drowning in the Platte(Columbus).
The Geo-Tones (Chadron)
Nick Snyder – Guitar
Collin Lybarger – Drums
David Barger – Bass Guitar
This band of CSC music majors formed under the temporary name Geo-Tones and laid down a fine collection of indie with a western punk feel, which offered a very good listen. The members had started the project to compete in the battle of the bands, but found it very difficult to find time, and space to practice. Being music majors, they know how to play, and can make their music fit together nicely, but they also had to juggle busy course load and noise complaints from faculty.
“We were in the middle of a sound check with Sky Blue Pink, when one of the staff came out of their office here in the student center and asked us to turn it down,” Snyder said. “It was like ‘we’re doing a sound check, isn’t it supposed to be loud?’”
The name had struck me as odd, “I looked at my tires and they said Geo-track” Snyder commented. “And I had come up with the ‘Tone’ part, because it had a kind of '60s psychedelic aspect to it, which complemented our retro gear,” Barger added. They went on to explain that the other names that they had thought up were either inappropriate for the venue or didn’t quite fit the genre and sound that they were crafting. A promising group, I’m eager to see what the next incarnation will become.
The Shon Townsend Band (Alliance)
Shon Townsend – Lead Guitar and Vocals
Erik Laughlin – Drums
Rick “Gonzo” Gonzales – Bass Guitar
With regular bassist Mike Schmidt and his wife Mandy not able to make the show, Gonzo filled in on bass and The Shon Townsend Band put on a flawless blues set fit for the city limits of Austin Texas. But, luckily for us, their talent is claimed by the Panhandle of Nebraska.
“There’s so much talent out here in Western Nebraska, and it’s a real shame that a lot of us don’t get the attention, and I guess, respect, that we deserve,” remarked Laughlin. “Live music has kind of gone by the wayside here out on the western end of the state.”
I understand. More often than not, bars here have no trouble booking bands, but instead encounter problems getting people to come up to see them. Venues will play it safe by booking DJ services for dances, rather than patrons cutting a rug to the traditional honky tonk sounds that have been the hallmark of live blues.
With the eastern part of the state hosting bigger bars, and bigger populations, a band in the east part of the state can garner crowds easily. But The Shon Townsend band pulled together and produced a stunning experience that speaks to the three years of playing together, and the combined expert musicianship of their members.
Bless Me Ultima (Alliance)
Nick Miller – Vocals
Tommy Miller – Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
Gabe Gauthier – Lead Guitar
Dillon Miller – Drums
Kyle Dalbey – Bass/Vocals
With several of their members under the tutelage at an early age by the notorious Shon Townsend, the band has been playing together since early high school as The Middle School Drop Outs, or M.S.D.O. I asked about the name change, “I read the book Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya in a A.P. English Class.” Nick Miller informed me, “We were kind of embarrassed at the name Middle School Drop Outs, and we needed something a little more mature.”
Originally playing punk, Bless Me Ultima has progressed to play more technical hardcore with heavy screamo influences and melodic breakdowns. With a very loud, enthusiastic performance, the limitations of a “no moshing ordinance” enforced by the contest organizers held little to curb enthusiasm from the crowd — I was picturing a circle of death shoving its way around in the crowd.
An intense performance, they are active in playing anywhere they can, with bands in the Alliance area, as well as hardcore, punk, and ska bands from across the state. With a split EP and a show in the works for the coming months with Omaha’s Eastern Turkish, folks on the eastern part of the state will have an opportunity to be thrashed by the intensity of Bless Me Ultima.
So Who Won?
The judges certainly had tough time deciding who would be crowned victorious. But after difficult deliberation, and with so much talent displayed during the contest, I’m reminded of a Highlander quote. “There Can Be Only One!”… er, um.. Three?
The final results of the battle of the bands were:
3rd place – The Unemployed Gigolos — winning a contest prize of $75
2nd Place – The Shon Townsend Band — collecting $150
1st Place – Bless Me Ultima – taking the pot of $350
Shon Townsend had called the outcome of the contest when I had interviewed the band, and for him I could tell it was a great honor to have taught the lads of Bless Me Ultima how to play, and see them go on to success.
I spoke with Beth Cook, co-president of Chadron State College’s Public Relations Club, and assistant professor of Public Relations, Lucyann Kerry, after the show about what it took for the school to put on the program.
“It was a student-initiated activity, and we were looking for an opportunity to get community involvement, and get a response,” Kerry said. “I was really impressed. The students really put a lot of work into getting the word out through media, and endeavored to get it put together.”
And it paid off as a good opportunity to get CSC students out of their dorm rooms on a Friday Night, and interact with others on campus, and showcase the talent of Nebraska musicians to a public audience, as well as help the PR Club put to practice what they’ve learned and get real world experience to apply to their coursework and beyond.
“The lighting, the speakers, and the technical side and how to get it to work was a rather large issue,” Cook said. “Surprisingly, the waiting list for bands had filled up and fell together a lot quicker than we had expected, and the club as a whole was able to work hard to get it to be up to code with campus regulations.”
“We will always do ANYTHING we can to support music in schools, in the area, or in general,” Mann replied. “Especially ROCK music.”
Considering the turnout and the enthusiasm exhibited by the media, the crowd, and especially by the musicians, I have great hopes about my tenure covering events in the Panhandle for hearnebraska.org. And I want to extend my sincerest thanks to all the members of the bands, the entire CSC Public Relations Club, the College staff, and KBPY for pulling off the contest.
Marine Corps Veteran Spike Jordan is a Panhandle correspondent for Hear Nebraska. He will be attending Chardron State College this fall, and majoring in Broadcast Journalism. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.