Published on Thursday, February 26, 1998
1998 The Arizona Republic


By Barry Gilbert
The Arizona Republic

For local bands, the rock and roll merry-go-round usually cycles through an endless succession of smoky clubs and frat parties. But every once in a while, riders get a tantalizing glimpse of the brass ring.

Five Valley bands get a chance to grab for it tonight at Gibson's in Tempe when they play for votes in the H.O.R.D.E. Band 2 Band Combat. The winner gets a slot in the second-stage lineup this summer when the H.O.R.D.E. Festival Tour rumbles through Phoenix.

The five unsigned bands, chosen by Gibson's and Evening Star Productions, are Honey Child, Kongo Shock, Jamie's Brother, Satellite and Sledville. Tom LaPenna, talent buyer at Evening Star, said the bands were chosen based on professionalism and compatibility with the rootsy/alternative/bluesy H.O.R.D.E. lineup.

This summer will mark the fourth tour of the H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) Festival, which was organized in 1995 by Blues Traveler. Last year's Phoenix show boasted acts ranging from the retro-swing Squirrel Nut Zippers to Neil Young and Crazy Horse. This year's lineup has yet to be chosen, LaPenna said, although Blues Traveler will be on the bill.

''This is the first year we've been contacted by the producers to hold a local battle of the bands,'' LaPenna said. ''I wish we could do this at every single festival, like the Lilith tour and Smokin' Grooves. I'd love to have a battle for five women groups or women singers for the Lilith. We don't get to use anywhere near the local bands we'd like to use.''

In addition to a spot on the Phoenix H.O.R.D.E. show, the winning band will get to put one of its songs on a promotional CD that will be distributed before and during the tour. The winners also will get cash and promotional support for upcoming gigs and merchandise.

''The CD will include songs from the national headliners as well as from the regional bands chosen along the way,'' LaPenna said.

Will Carlan, manager of the guitar-rocking Jamie's Brother, said, ''Any opportunity can be a chance to elevate to another level. You never know. If a band winds up at one H.O.R.D.E. show and is seen by the organizers, it may end up doing more than one show. You never know who's in the audience.''

The ska band Kongo Shock already has experience on a second stage, which is used at these multiact festivals to give local and new national bands an opportunity to play for big crowds.

''We played Lollapalooza the year before last - it was the same kind of thing,'' drummer Jimmy Boom said. ''You get to play in front of a lot of people. We don't usually involve ourselves in many contests, but this seems cool for us. We might be able to get into the big tour, maybe not this time around but next time.''

Gary Weisberg, manager of the pop/alternative Satellite, said the odds of a H.O.R.D.E. slot becoming a career break ''are strictly a matter of if certain people see them or they form a relationship with one of the bands on the tour.''

Here's how the Band 2 Band Combat will work:

Each act will play for one hour beginning at 8 p.m., and ''every paying patron will get a ballot,'' LaPenna said.

''At the end of the night, the ballots will be tabulated,'' he said. ''Each of the bands has gotten postcards for their mailing lists. And the winner will be based on how many paying patrons come back and vote.''

Heather Higgs, lead singer for the six-piece world-music outfit Honey Child, has seen career lightning strike.

''I'm from Pittsburgh, and I've seen Rusted Root forever,'' she said. ''They'd been playing the second stage every year before they got signed.

''If they can do it, I can do it, too. We've just got to be patient. But it's really inspiring to see that happen.''