Who’da Funk It? wins CRC Battle of the Bands

By Tommy Verdone

On Thursday evening in the Student Union Ballroom, the Cannabis Reform Coalition’s annual Battle of the Bands got off to a slow start, but had an explosive ending.

Justin Surgent/Collegian

The show started around 6:10 p.m. and ran until just after 10 p.m., with nine diverse local bands competing for the opportunity to be the opening act of the CRC’s annual “Extravaganja” festival. Who’da Funk It? stole the show and the prize.

No more than 20 people had showed up when Mass Air Flow, the first scheduled act, took to the stage just a bit behind schedule. Mass Air Flow consists of three members, all of whom are University of Massachusetts graduates – Alex Abrams on guitar and vocals, Richard Buonaugurio on bass and Mike Thurber on drums. The band’s sound is self-proclaimed “Astronaut Folk,” according to the group’s Facebook page. The band has a dreamy psychedelic tone with tight band dynamics, and as the members were playing, student passersby came flocking in and the audience began to grow.

Both Thurber and Buonaugurio were members of the band Dude F*ckin’ Yeah, which won the CRC’s Battle of the Bands competition in 2005. After getting off stage, Buonaugurio it made a point to say “Support local music!”

The Barely Brothers Band appeared on stage around 6:45 p.m., placing a tiny wooden bear statue front and center on stage before the act. The band consists of Nick Swift on guitar, Dan Peck on bass, Sam Baskir on the slide guitar and Ian Schenholm on drums. The group is a modern sounding jam band with heavy Phish and Grateful Dead influences.

Afterwards, Railyard Conspiracy headed onto the stage. Opening with a rocky cover of “I’m Sexy and I Know It,” by LMFAO, the five-piece rock band had a much poppier and energetic stage presence than its psychedelic predecessors. The group is made up of Ian Stahl on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Joe Taff on lead guitar, Ben Muller on keys and saxophone, Daniel Webber on bass and EJ Nisbeth on drums. As the ever-growing audience amassed into a large enough group to finally justifiably be called a crowd, the group leveled the listeners with tenaciously bluesy licks from all of its instrumentalists and tight band mechanics.

Outer Stylie stepped on stage as the audience swelled to over 50 people with the most atypical sound of the night. The group had a hard rock sound, which almost felt like a powerful version of sludge metal. With their long hair and hippie garb, the members of the group brought out the head-bangers in the crowd, in stark contrast to the dreamier earlier bands.

Next up, MooseKnuckle stepped onto the stage as bassist Greg Russian shouted, “I am the ultimate person in this band” into the microphone. This fun ’70s sounding melodic rock group, with driving drums, wild synth and guitar solos, was pulled off stage early due to time constraints as the crowd chanted “One more!” Gabe Rudd, keyboardist, and Russian described their band as “party style” in unison.

Secret Jam Society followed up with Anna Morsillo on vocals, Chris Godden on drums, Jake Slater on guitar, Zak Judd on the keys and Jack Rosen playing bass. Secret Jam Society has a wide genre repertoire. Some songs were a bluesy folk rock blend, while for others Morsillo rapped over the traditionally rock-oriented band dynamics. The group got the crowd up and dancing with its fun, groovy presence.

Following Secret Jam Society was one of the most unique acts of the night – The Happiness Machines. This group was a hot mess in the best way possible. Fronted by lead singer Jess Charnley, The Happiness Machines were more or less a traditional blues-rock group, if Ke$ha were the lead singer. The audience seemed to share a sort of mixed reception, but it’s impossible to argue that this crew wasn’t fun. With Delaney Ratner on bass, Evan Hill on the drums and CRC Public Relations Officer Alec Slepchuk on guitar, these guys played some universal-sounding blues with a wild frontwoman that made them one of the most intriguing acts of the night.

After The Happiness Machines closed with a cover of the Jimi Hendrix track “Foxy Lady,” Red Panda took to the stage. Made up of lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Jake Reed – who serves as an assistant arts editor for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian – lead guitarist Mark Hillier, bassist David Bazzet and drummer Ryan Severin, the gang mixes a wide variety of genres. From math-rocky time signatures to indie rock guitar tones, it is a band of many influences. Reed’s vocals are pop influenced, though it is difficult to place it outside of the group’s hard hitting dreamy aura. The audience danced and some even sang along with tracks they knew. One highlight of the performance was when the band covered “Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi, more commonly known as the Charlie Brown theme song.

Last, but certainly not least, on the lineup was the explosive brass soul group, and eventual victor, Who’da Funk It?. The group, the largest of the night, consisted of seven musicians – Katie Ronan and Ryan Miller on sax, Sierra Brimhall on trumpet, Nina Kent on bass, Alex Kogut on the keyboard, Gabe Camarano on drums and Deja Carr, the lead voice of the group, taking on the vocals. In this group every band member plays an important role and had something unique to offer.

The crowd, flooding the bulk of the center of the Student Union Ballroom, couldn’t resist cheering when Who’da Funk It? stepped out on stage. The band played music that was impossible not to move to. It was as if jazz, blues and funk had all showed up at the same party and were in the best moods they’d ever been in.

Carr’s vocals were unmatched, featuring the soul that such a band needs to thrive. With the keys, drums and bass keeping a mean rhythm and melody, the horns blared from wailing blues to trade-off breakdowns that were reminiscent of something King Crimson would do on “21st Century Schizoid Man.”

The winner of the competition was determined by a vote of CRC members, with a score sheet that encompassed musicality, appropriateness for “Extravaganja,” and originality. Just after 10 p.m., and no more than 10 minutes after Who’da Funk It? stepped off the stage, the group was announced the winner, which means it will be the opening act of the locally famous, and massively popular “Extravaganja.”

The band members were ecstatic after their victory was announced. Just after the winner was named, Kent, the bassist, exclaimed, “I feel fantastic. I’m jumping up and down, I’m so happy.”

Thomas Verdone can be reached at [email protected]