Battle of the Bands’ Future Uncertain

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Longtime Battle of the Bands emcee Danny Mays remembers some of his fondest moments from the competition’s history, such as 2005 when the band Trial and Error from Key School performed “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones.

“They decided to bring the entire choir out,” Mays recalled. “To feel that kind of energy in the room was like, ‘Wow.’ They had a vision and they executed it so well. As soon as that happened, we were like, ‘They just won.’”

Davey Jones and the Sailors of Funk — an eight-piece from Severn School — astonished the crowd in 2013. “Dave [Jones] came out in a white suit and they just kicked it … They turned the whole room into a party,” Mays said. “People not even there to support them got swept up in it and it was great to see them have that moment.”

Every winter for the past 17 years, Anne Arundel County Battle of the Bands afforded local high schools the opportunity to participate in a countywide tournament culminating with the best bands from each school vying for victory and rock ‘n’ roll glory on the grand auditorium stage at Maryland Hall in Annapolis. All 850 seats for the boisterous evening consistently sold out, with proceeds going to participating music departments. Now, the Battle of the Bands faces an uncertain future.

An announcement was posted to the event website in mid July that a confluence of factors led program director Nancy Almgren to cancel Battle of the Bands. What happened? An adequate explanation requires delving into the program’s history.

The idea for a countywide Battle of the Bands came to Almgren in 1999 while looking to get more involved in the community through Leadership Anne Arundel, a nonprofit institute that fosters local leaders. Back then, high school bands regularly played gigs at Woods Church’s Holy Grounds Youth Center. Noticing that her teenage son did not attend these shows because the participants were from other schools, Almgren conceived Battle of the Bands as a means of bridging the divide between the different pockets of the community while also empowering interest in the arts.

With the backing of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education, the program took off. As a board-sponsored event, Battle of the Bands could be held at Maryland Hall without renting fees, given that the board owns the building. It was thus that the first Battle of the Bands surpassed expectations; 200 tickets sold, 10 bands performed and the organizers broke even.

Over the years, Battle of the Bands provided students a professional-grade venue and the opportunity to explore the intricacies of a career in music. They flaunted backstage passes and meditated in the green room before heading on stage and producing plenty of memorable performances along the way. Sponsorships came from sources as diverse as the Maryland teachers union, local radio stations and the BMI Licensing Company. Tickets never failed to sell out.

However, obstacles have suddenly inundated the program. This year, Maryland Hall ruled that Battle of the Bands does not meet criteria to be called an official board-sponsored event. Consequently, organizers would now have to cover the standard event fees of outside organizations for renting out Maryland Hall. According to Almgren, the overhead from reorganizing as a nonprofit and paying rent renders the Battle of the Bands financially insolvent, cutting the ability to put on a professional-grade show while also passing surplus back to the music department.

The program also lost key personnel this summer. Mays, who once performed as a member of Item16 in the Battle of the Bands as a student, served as emcee since 2002 and was lead organizer for attaining sponsorships. With the pressure of having a full-time job, a family and a band, Mays had to step away from his role.
These circumstances combined to put the Battle of the Bands in dire straits. However, since the announcement went out, various individuals expressed interest in helping the show go on. Almgren has not given up hope. “There is so much talent around here,” she said. “The students won’t get to the next level unless they have something to strive for.”

Although he is no longer involved, Mays is sad to see the event go because, he said, it addresses an underserved market.

“We need a full-time place for kids to practice year-round,” Mays said. “There is a lack of performance opportunities. It’s not as revered in high school as sports and marching band. Cheerleaders don’t cheer once a year, the marching band doesn’t march once a year. These kids need a place to perform and play instead of just taking the stage at Battle of the Bands once a year.”

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