For a lot of musicians, the words “battle of the bands” conjure up the worst parts about the music industry. Artists are pitted against each other in cruel, typically cringe-worthy pageants that allow bands and their music to be scored like figure-skating competitions. In some cases, the winners are chosen/agreed upon before anyone ever plays a note. In other cases, there’s no performances even involved anymore -- they’re just online popularity contests.
All that being said, some of them are more legit than others -- and in the case of this year’s Play Vans Warped Tour ’17, at least the prizes are worth it: 41 bands will win a slot on this year’s Warped Tour mainstage and one band will win a three-song EP produced by John Feldmann (who, last year, earned a Grammy nomination for his production work on Blink-182’s “California” album), a $10,000 Guitar Center shopping spree, and more than $20,000 in additional prizes. Not too shabby.
And it's not like Warped is small potatoes either -- it's basically a national institution at this point. The traveling punk/metal/hardcore circus now in its 23rd year (the longest-running of its kind ever in North America) kicks off on June 16 in Seattle, Washington with headliners CKY, Municipal Waste, T.S.O.L., Save Ferris, and Hatebreed (among many others), and stops at Qualcomm Stadium on Aug. 5.
That's where Alive & Well come in: The local quartet (comprised of vocalist/guitarist Matt Vernon, bassist Mike Mule, drummer Eric Brozgold, and guitarist Pat Hughes) is one of San Diego’s premier pop-punk bands (who released an incredible EP last year) and in the running to win the whole damned thing. Currently ranked in the top 20 out of thousands of entries,Vernon explained that while ultimate victory might be a longshot, they’re definitely in it to win it -- they just need your help.
"This step of the competition is pretty simple, us playing the San Diego date of Warped Tour is purely based on website traffic to our page they've provided. People click the link, watch one or all four of the videos we posted and every view counts as a point. No email, no signup necessary at all and you can watch as frequently as you like -- the more views, the more points we get. If people really want to help out, they can register on the page and create a username as a fan and comment on our videos. Comments are worth a lot more than views but everything helps. Sharing the link and having your friends get in on it is also hugely appreciated."
The band (which always puts on an incendiary, inspiring live show -- and recently opened for Dashboard Confessional at the Che) has a personal connection to Warped that goes way beyond wishing they had surface-level bragging rights about playing its mainstage.
"Since the core lineup formed for A&W, we've kept a list of goals and Warped Tour has always been at the top of that list and now we are literally eight days away from possibly locking in an opportunity to play the mainstage," Vernon said. "Some bands spend their entire career and can't seem to get through the onslaught of acts who work tirelessly to get the attention of the folks at Warped, but for the bands that do get through, they are instantly dropped into a world that the punk, hardcore, emo, and metal community built from scratch. Prior to 1995, there wasn't anything like Warped Tour and to this day there still isn't, and in my opinion because of how unique it is, the people who attend have a higher sense of pride and loyalty to the bands they go to see because they directly took part in creating something where there was nothing."
Alive & Well's frontman, like many old-school Warped-goers, seems to relish in the fact that the tour has basically stayed true to its core ideology over the course of decades and amid widely changing trends.
"Most large scale festival shows happen on weekends and the show runners are doing more to make the situation more accommodating: air conditioned tents, VIP passes for preferred recliner seating, etc., etc. Not Warped. It's a tour, so you may be taking off work on Tuesday to go out to a fenced-in parking lot to get sunburned and maybe pass out from heat stroke...and I love that! Warped Tour runs on passion; it's not the most convenient festival experience but I like the idea that if you love something you'll go out of your way for it and you can spend one day in any city on that tour and see appreciation on both sides of the stage barricade. Bands appreciate you going nuts in 100-degree heat, and audiences appreciate seeing 10-20 of their favorite bands in a single day. There is also the overall mentality that Warped Tour is a safe haven for anyone who might have at some point felt like an outcast or who has ever experienced racism or sexism of any kind -- it's a self-policing community that prides itself on everyone being safe within the entry gates."
Vernon, who started the band in 2012 after driving cross-country from New Jersey to California "in my death trap of a van," knows that winning this contest could lead to even bigger things down the line -- but even if it doesn't, he's already grateful for the support they've received thus far.
"Currently there are 17,045 band pages or 'channels' to view on the [Warped] website -- some are fan pages most are competing bands. We have been consistently floating around 10-18th place for the entire three months of the contest. If literally nothing at all comes from this, I am still absolutely floored by the response to our music and videos and to the amazing contribution friends, family, and fans have made to support this dream of ours. Win or lose, the new people across the country who have found us by browsing the website and took the time to reach out and tell us how much they enjoy what we do is satisfying enough."
It's hard not to root for 'em, right? Even if they’re not grand-prize winners, Alive & Well have other plans for the future that don’t rely on the results of a Warped Tour battle-of-the-bands contest.
"We actually have a bunch of new things on the way," Vernon said. "We wrapped up a live session at Studio 52 engineered and ran by Adam Sisco and filmed/edited by Chris Cochran of 'Your Camera, Our Story,' so in the last few days of the contest, you'll be able to see a completely live, high-quality version of our song 'Transplant Rejection' only on the Warped Tour website. Shortly after, we have a new single to release we did with our good friend Peter Duff over at his place the Grey Brick Recording Studio which we're very excited about. And just this morning, we announced that a month from today, we'll be leaving for a short tour called 'The Bar Crawl,' which will be our first shows outside of California."
Hopefully they'll be back by Aug. 5. Just sayin'.