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Davis, California

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Stay Tuned: Battle of the Bands

A drop of sweat rolled down my forehead and collected in my eyebrow. “And next up we have…” the announcer rumbled. Deep breath.

There are many reasons to form a band, one of them being to compete in Battle of the Bands at your school. Maybe you will decide to form this band months in advance to give a good amount of time to properly prepare. Maybe you will throw something together three weeks before the first performance.

To be fair it started out as a joke. In the tenth grade, my friend Betty and I played music almost every day and had been joking about making a two-person band for weeks. By the time we got serious about the idea we had recruited our friend Marisa to be a drummer and Brittany to be a violinist. Then a few more of our friends thought it would be fun to join. I know now what I didn’t know then: how to say no. It’s not that I regret forming such a large band, but for practical purposes seven people — seven teenagers — is a little more than the average high schooler can handle.

Band practice was 40 percent talking, 60 percent hauling Marisa’s drum set in and out of the house. Of the three weeks we practiced, about a week and a half was spent deciding what to name the band. We called ourselves Greek Fire — inspired by a Greek war tactic we learned about in our AP World History class. The name had no relevance to our music or our image whatsoever, but it sounded cool as hell at the time, so it stuck.

The last two weeks consisted of hellishly chaotic practice sessions attended by at least four band members at a time, and me calling in every favor I was owed to provide sound equipment for our performance.

Betty: Ukulele/Voice, Brittany: Violin/Flute, Marisa: Drums, Benjy: Voice/bass, Kyla: Piano/Tambourine, me: voice/guitar/banjo. In case you’re having trouble with the numbers that’s about a million and five mics.

Our first performance went surprisingly well. We made it into finals though I have my suspicions that we made it on the grounds that turning down seven kids is a lot harder than turning down three or four.

And then hardly a week later, finals were upon us. Greek Fire was competing with four other bands: one death metal, two rock and one reggae. We were the only underclassmen competing. We were also the only girls. I felt out of place and awkward as I asked where we should set up.

“And next up we have…Greek Fire!”

The equipment had been set up, though the sound system could barely accommodate for the amount of people on stage. But we had been good enough to make it to finals, and grasping onto that hopeful thought, I stepped into the spotlight with my banjo gripped tightly.

We began. My voice shook. The trumpet came in a measure late. The drummer couldn’t hear us. The harmonies stayed stubbornly flat. I’m sure it must have been slightly comical from the audience’s perspective, either that or horribly grating. We plowed through that song, the trumpet wandering in and out of any discernible melody, Benjy’s theater voice booming over the rest of the band and the drums futilely trying to keep rhythm to the disjointed clash of sounds.

The worst part was finishing the song and only being a third of the way through the performance. The second song however, went well. Strangely everything went according to plan, and next to the first song, the performance was nothing short of perfection. One more to go.

Feeling empowered, we began to play. And then suddenly the sound cut out. But we didn’t. We just sang louder. Weirdly, in the midst of the cacophony, I realized that it could hardly be worse, that all my fears had been confirmed and yet here I was still playing, half laughing, and then I was bowing, waving unabashedly to the audience as we walked off the stage. We placed last.

Out of that band, me, Betty, Marisa and Brittany eventually formed a smaller band called Decibella. We played gigs around town and performed in Battle of the Bands the two following years, placing third and then second.

Greek Fire was the spark that led to a high school experience full of music. Sometimes you have to think big in order to create anything worthwhile. We might have been the worst band that night, but we were undoubtedly the biggest.


Hey we should totally start a band or something! Contact ELLY OLTERSDORF at eroltersdorf@ucdavis.edu.


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