Local favorite earns Battle of the Bands crown

Friendly competition and rock ‘n’ roll filled the College Union Ballroom on Thursday Feb. 12 for Activities Commission’s annual Battle of the Bands, hosted by Valley Entertainment Music & Comedy. Seven groups from Geneseo and the wider Western New York area competed for the $500 first prize voted on by the audience at the end of the night. Each group was allotted a roughly 15-minute set to demonstrate their musical prowess.

The Burning Wales opened the night with soft-rock sounds. The all-freshmen group includes Amanda Saladino, Kazmira Pitzrick, Noah Chichester, Steven Sicari and Adam Ontiveros-Oberg. Led by two acoustic guitars, The Burning Wales played through a pleasantly mellow set.

Following The Burning Wales, sophomore singer Gabriel Birkby performed pop-rock originals. Originally listed as a solo act, Birkby instead showed up with a drummer and bassist, helping to give his music a fuller sound.

After easygoing sets from The Burning Wales and Birkby, local trio RC3 took the audience by surprise with an explosion of heavy-metal power. Hailing from from Delevan, New York, the band features a drummer-vocalist, power bass and traditional metal-crush guitar. Despite the lead singer’s best efforts to pump up the crowd, the audience remained seated throughout RC3’s set. In a fitting conclusion, RC3 ended its set with a powerful ZZ Top cover. Though the band was very technically sharp, the Geneseo audience never really got behind RC3’s bluesy hard rock.

The first signs of life from the crowd came midway through slackjaw’s set. Audience members gathered in front of the stage to dance along to the band’s fuzzy garage rock. The group is made up of seniors Nathan Kahn and Jacob Kotler on drums and guitar, respectively, with junior Jon Campbell on bass and sophomore Ella Mosco singing lead vocals. After an exciting start to its set, slackjaw energized the audience with a cover Taylor Swift’s hit “Blank Space” that had almost everyone in attendance on their feet. In the audience-voted competition, slackjaw seemed to have given itself the best chance out of any of the first few groups.

Battle of the Bands veterans Red Inc. had the tough task of following slackjaw. Hailing from the University of Rochester, the group brought its best progressive-heavy rock and performed another musically tight set. A highlight of Red Inc.’s set––as well as the competition as a whole––was its funky cover of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Superstition.”

Soft Cough––who went on to win the competition––drew an even larger crowd down to the front of the stage than slackjaw. The all-junior band has cemented itself at the center of Geneseo’s music scene, playing a set full of originals—songs that are now pleasantly familiar to many. Lead vocal duties shifted depending on the song, with guitarists Nicholas Koithan and Daniel Pugh alternating singing responsibilities. Bassist Tom Kohn and drummer Ben Freiman complete the lineup.

Geneseo band Exile on Court Street closed the night with another strong blues-rock performance. Sophomores Alex Fantauzzo, Evan Goldstein, Sam Miller, Sean Wraith and Rochester Institute of Technology graduate Mike Paunovksi comprise the group, which boasted a strong musical performance. From spot-on percussion to sharp lead guitar, Exile continues to forge a reputation as one of Geneseo’s premier groups on the heels of another outstanding performance.

Despite stiff competition, Soft Cough emerged as the audience’s choice for the 2015 Battle of the Bands crown, claiming the $500 prize. The band was quick to thank the other performers and their friends for coming out to participate in the event. “We’re going to pay someone to master our album,” Kohn said. After taking home the 2015 Battle crown, Soft Cough looks set to take the next step in releasing a debut album sometime in the near future.