Fort Wayne has a rich and diverse music scene. There are so many talented musicians in this city that it would be hard to name them all. Yes, there are always going to be the haters who think “everything in this city sucks,” but if those people took the time to examine the scene in an unbiased way, they would find it rife with talented musicians from all genres of music, including jazz, country, blues and rock. The expression that “every band was once local” rings unequivocally true. The whatzup Battle of the Bands was created to help showcase some of this talent and has become something of a “rite of passage” for area bands and musicians. It has been a launching point for many bands over the years, including several who have garnered national attention, such as the now defunct B-Sharps, The Orange Opera, Unlikely Alibi and, more recently, Krimsha and Kill the Rabbit. It is meant to support, celebrate and promote the local music scene by recognizing and rewarding excellence.

That being said, every year’s Battle is different. According to Bob Roets, owner of Wooden Nickel and a judge throughout the summer, this year’s contest was well represented by the many different genres alive in Fort Wayne and the area today. 

“Diversity is back,” exclaimed Roets. “Judging was a fabulous experience again this year, and this year’s contest was even better because we had the most diversity I’ve seen in a while. Battle of the Bands has, unfortunately, gotten a reputation over the last few years as a contest for rock and metal bands only. We know this isn’t true, and this year’s finals have proven it. If you look at the four finalists, they couldn’t be much more different. You had a reggae band in Elephants in Mud, a metal band in Second Sun, a straightforward rock band from out of town named Fat Alice and a somewhat indefinable band and intriguing band in Casket Sharp. That’s a great representation of our music scene today.”

WBYR 98.9 The Bear’s Jerrdog, host of Battle of the Bands for the last five years, agrees. The contest this year “rocked. That’s it,” he said.

“Once again, it was a great summer showcasing our local music scene.” he added. “A lot of new bands got a taste of playing to bigger crowds, and some of the veteran bands made major statements that they are here to stay, with sights set on bigger things. As far as the champs are concerned, they dominated and 100 percent deserve to win. I can’t wait for next year. I’m sure it’s only going to be bigger and better.”

The paths to the finals were quite different for the four bands. As the guitarist in a band from Portland, a town over an hour away, Fat Alice’s Tony Ingram was excited and equally surprised.  

“I can’t believe we made it to the finals. I didn’t think we would make it out of the first round to be honest,” he said.

How Fat Alice got to the finals is no secret, however. They loaded up a bus of fans every night and brought them to the show. 

“We got the idea from (2009 winners) A New Definition,” Ingram continued. “I went to our hometown bar, The Greazy Pickle, and said, ‘Hey, can we work out a deal.” Jody Mills, manager of the bar, said ‘Sure, how about if we rent you a bus to take people to the show for as long as you are in the contest.’” Thus, a party was born. Among the loudest and most enthusiastic fans of the contest, Fat Alice’s crowd is owed a big thank you from the band, and Ingram is definitely appreciative. 

“We couldn’t have done it without them. We are forever indebted.”

Second Sun’s arrival in the finals was truly an act of persistence. The band competed in the very first whatzup Battle of the Bands in 2004, making it to the finals before being defeated by Take Sides. Since then, the band has competed in the Battle a couple of times without advancing out of the first round. This year, according to singer Matt Clibon, the band decided to compete again because they wanted to prove something to their fans and to themselves.  

“We feel really good about getting back to the finals. We’re the ‘grandpas of rock’ now, but we feel it’s time to reclaim our spot in the scene. We are coming off an eight-month hiatus, have a new guitarist and have a new album coming out soon, so this is kind of a new beginning for us. We hope people appreciate our dedication and “stick-to-it-iveness.”

Guitarist Gordon Groat says Casket Sharp’s finals appearance this year is a result of their audience “slowly building since last year’s competition. We don’t want to oversaturate the scene, so we don’t play a lot of shows .Of course, this makes the process of acquiring fans a lot slower, but the good thing is it makes every show something special. We are writing new songs, putting them in the sets and working on the flow of our shows now, so each time we get on stage our fans see something different and we seem to get better as a band.”

Eventual winners Elephants in Mud felt they had given it their best shot, and the numbers seem to prove their assumption. EIM placed first in each round with the highest judge scores and most crowd votes. Nothing changed in the finals as the first-time competitors took home the championship by taking both categories once again. 

“We are grateful for our fan support,” said vocalist and guitarist Jared Andrews. “We couldn’t have done it without them. The Battle of the Bands has been a fun chance to meet with different bands and gave us a reason to ‘step it up.’ But the fans are the real winners here. We owe them everything in this contest.”

According to Wikipedia, “Battle of Bands is a contest in which many bands compete for the title of “best band.” The winner is determined by a panel of judges, the general response of the audience, or a combination. The winning band usually receives a prize in addition to bragging rights. Traditionally, battles of bands are held at live music events and forums.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. The annual event gave out over $24,000 in cash and prizes this year, including thousands of dollars in gift certificates from Sweetwater Sound, cash and advertising credits from whatzup and free recording time from Digitracks Recording Studio. 

Elephants in Mud will close out the 2011 Whammy Awards show in February and appear on the third Battle Songz CD, tentatively scheduled to be released in December. 

Undoubtedly, this is just the beginning of a great year for this year’s champs.