By Paul Lane
NIAGARA FALLS —
As a Buffalo Bills fan who grew up during the Super Bowl days, I am intimately familiar with second place.
A lot of people knock position No. 2, but not me. No. 2 means that there are still a lot of people behind you who would love the chance to be that close to the top.
Being the No. 2 choice to represent this newspaper group as a guest judge at the Hard Rock Cafe Battle of the Bands, therefore, was still quite an honor. And a lot of fun.
I filled in for my colleague Rick Forgione for the April 30 finals, which saw five bands duke it out for a spot in the national semifinals. Only one band could win the title, but I have to say without a hint of condescension that I was a winner in that I got to see 2 1/2 hours of the region’s best local music.
First of all, thanks to the Hard Rock for putting on such a great show (and for treating the bands and judges better than royalty). In its second year of hosting the contest, the Hard Rock gets nothing out of it but bragging rights (and perhaps the money that a packed house full of drink consumers spends). But the folks there made it feel like a headlining gig at Madison Square Garden.
Mingling backstage with the performers, I was amazed at some of the minutiae about live performance that I learned. Eating just before taking the stage could hinder a singer’s voice, for example, because the food could hamper the diaphragm’s movement. The friendly debate between rhythm section and the lead performers, meanwhile, will infinitely go on, while some musicians just can’t take the stage with their shoes on because it doesn’t feel right.
And then there was the music:
• Free Henry!, a Lewiston-based quartet whose lively jam rock got the show off to a spirited start (that’s their exclamation point, not mine).
• Floozie, who represented Niagara Falls with a rock sound tinged with the Foo Fighters and Beck.
• Reign, a hip hop/R&B trio (only two performers took the stage for the finals) that commanded the audience’s attention and held it for 30 solid minutes.
• More Than Me, a Buffalo-based group that just as easily handled driving reggae as acoustic beach rock.
• DoDriver, a Buffalo-based five-piece hard rock band that wrapped up the show with an absolute frenzy of a set.
More Than Me took the grand prize, which includes a spot in the national semifinals (Hard Rock corporate judges will assess videos and pick finalists, who will compete for a London gig). More Than Me, DoDriver (second place) and Floozie (third place) all received paid opening gigs at the Hard Rock, as well as regional Hard Rock shows and other prizes.
Only a twist of fate put me to be in the position to be there that night, but I’m glad it worked out that way. There’s a bevy of great local music being made all around us, and anyone would benefit from going to check out a show at some point this summer.
So if you have a free night, go on a new music adventure. You never know what gems you may unearth.