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Rock Hard, Win a Van: Why (almost) every band in Central Oregon is competing in Last Band Standing 

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon, at least one member of 38 different local bands has gathered at Boondocks Bar and Grill.

click to enlarge sound_lastbandstanding.jpg

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon, at least one member of 38 different local bands has gathered at Boondocks Bar and Grill. Yet upon entering the spacious Newport Avenue nightclub, hardly any of these musicians can be found - and that's because, quite predictably, they're all huddled around the bar. There's free beer to be had and some of these rockers, rappers and blues players seem more stoked about this (not to mention the equally free Chinese food) than they are about the fact that in a matter of about two months, one of them will win a package of goodies worth $30,000.

This is the scene at the kickoff party for Last Band Standing, a battle-of-the-bands-style competition produced by Combined Communications, the parent company of The Twins (98.3) and Clear (101.7), that will pit these acts against each other. The contest, spearheaded largely by Combined's Jennifer Meyer, features shows with four to five acts each night, beginning on Thursday and continue each Thursday through July 1.

As musicians sipped their Ninkasi brews and devoured mountainous plates of Chinese food, there were at least a few seemingly odd pairings to be seen at certain tables - indicative of the all-inclusive, wildly eclectic nature of Last Band Standing. For example, at one table sat hip-hopper Mosley Wotta, Guy J. Jackson, who joins pianist David Finch for a storytelling-meets-jazz-piano act, and Marzell Sampson, front man of new funk collective Blowin' Smoke. Standing closely by was wrecked rocker Wayne Newcome of Problem Stick. Contestants range from those in their 20s to a few who appear to be pushing close to 60 and clothing ranged from skinny jeans to sweater vests.

The lineup for the eight weeks of Thursday night shows features plenty of bands and performers known to gig around the area. There are acts like Blackstrap and Erin Cole-Baker, who have racked up a few years worth of local performances, as well as several punk and metal bands (Tuck and Roll, Never Heard the Shot, Thorns of Creation) whose names are as common on the Players' marquee as the prime rib special. There are others who haven't played many (or any, in some cases) local shows.

While there are 38 bands in the contest, more than 100 acts sent in applications. If you didn't think there were 38 local bands - let alone 100 - here in Bend, you're not alone.

"Where did all these bands come from?" asks John Davis, whose pop-punk band Capture the Flag will play Thursday night's opening show of the competition. Davis, although still in his early twenties, has a long history of promoting shows and managing bands here in Bend through his company, Red Light Productions.

"I've been doing shows for years and when I heard there would be 38 bands playing for these sort of prizes, it seemed totally crazy," says Davis-- - post Chinese food consumption.

The sort of prizes available to the band that finishes on top at the end of the contest are, indeed, crazy. The winner takes home a 15-passenger van complete with custom paint job (which they would presumably use to emblazon their band name on the rig), a record contract with Topsecret Records, a Gibson guitar and plenty of other perks.

With those sorts of prizes (and, of course, the promise of free beer at the kickoff party) it's pretty easy to understand why so many acts gunned to get on the bill for this show. And it is damn near everybody, as evidenced by the mass of musical humanity that gathered for a "We Are the World" sort of photo (seen above) during the party. Another unique aspect surrounding Last Band Standing is that it creates some competition in an otherwise remarkably friendly music scene.

Standing at the bar as the party began to wind down, Eric Tollefson, who will play with his band, The World's Greatest Lovers on May 20, remarked on the odd sensation of competing against his friends - and also some of his bandmates, who make up 60 percent of Empty Space Orchestra, another popular local band that has entered the contest.

"It's weird to go up against all these people I respect. But I think that's also the best part about this - everyone respects each other," says Tollefson.

They may respect each other, but they all really want that van.

Last Band Standing

Begins 8pm Thursday, April 22. Continues each Thursday. All shows at 8pm. Full schedule can be found at $3/advanced at Bend Indoor Gardening Station, $5/door.


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