So there’s this EVENT called BLAZEFEST happening September the 17th here in Fresno, CA, and the line-up is mind blowing: Tesla, Cheap Trick, Everclear, Candlebox, Playmate of the Year 2011 Claire Sinclair and a hot rod and muscle car show. It’s being put on by local classic rock station 105.1 The Blaze (Get it?) and they’ve been holding a “Battle to Blazefest” Battle of the Bands at the Live Performance Venue The Starline Wednesday nights since July 27th and the winner will be the opening band at Blazefest. Tonight, enticed by their two-for-one ticket offer, I drove on over right after a night of Dungeons and Dragons: Encounters at The Crazy Squirrel (That’s another story), and since I had to pay a cover charge to get in to buy the Blazefest tickets, I figured I might as well stick around and watch the bands. (And yes, I did ask Ali if she wanted to come, but she had a lot of reading to do, having just started her last semester at State this week.) I heard five of the six bands play and I was not disappointed by a single one of them.

Here’s a quick rundown of the bands I heard and links to their pages:

Gutterfish or A solid hard rock band whose lyrics reminded me of classic Meatloaf: catchy, well-known or well-worn catchphrases-turned-chorus-lines, perfect for getting your audience to sing along and remember long after the night is over. And it sounds like it’s been working since most of the crowd was singing along with a few of their songs–looks like they’ve got a loyal fanbase going. Meatloaf made it his thing to take known phrases like “objects in the rearview mirror may appear closer than they are” and “two out of three ain’t bad,” and turn them into song hooks. It’s fucking brilliant. Gutterfish’s “Sober” and “Do What You Got To” are perfect crowd-pleasers, and that is rock at it’s best. And “Anti-Love Song” is undeniably fun. Gutterfish is a laid back, feel-good band, but make no mistake, they have a passion and determination for what they do–they’ve been going strong for seven years and they’re taking nothing less than the sky as their limit.

Gods And Kings or Metal. Pure and Simple. The way you remember it, the way it should be. And if you’re too young to remember when rock was METAL, give these guys a listen and be schooled in the ways of HEAVY METAL. Also loved their acapella/intro/poetry/commentary between jams. If you haven’t heard their grand opus “Queen of the Stars,” go to their myspace page NOW. And then come back and read the rest of this piece, please. Thanks.

Hobo Code I got to meet Kyle, er, I mean “Scraps” before his set (turns out he’s the husband of a friend I hadn’t seen in over ten years), and when I asked what genre Hobo Code played, he said, “It’s rock ‘n’ roll…quirky…more bluesy.” He said this modestly, and then joined his pals “Stretch” and “Cotton” and proceeded to RAISE THE BAR on COOL ROCK. Their “King of the Road/Helter Skelter” mash-up is a must-hear. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, you can find the actual code for hobos here. You learn something new every day.

Trial and I scoured the internet tonight looking for more info on these guys, or another site that might have more of their music on it, because I just can’t believe they’ve only been playing as long as they’ve been on facebook, which is about May of this year. Lee Walker is their frontman, and his son, thirteen year old(?!) Jacob Walker is their drummer, so maybe they’ve only been playing for a little less than that, but man, can they ROCK. Heavy Metal, with covers just as good as the originals–they played Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” as if they were channeling them; or better–you should have heard what they did with Flock of Seagull’s “I Ran (So Far Away)!”; and what I can only assume was their own stuff while holding on to their obviously classic rock roots. (Apologies for my crazy punctuation here, it’s late/early and I’m still wired.) Just go to their facebook page and hunt down the vid of their cover of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” already.

Half 8N, and These young sons of guns had the poor fortune of going last in Starline’s Battle for Blazefest (every time I say that, I get a dollar–just kidding), after most of the other bands and their fans packed up and cleared out, and those folks that were left were tuckered out and back in their chairs IT DID NOT LESSEN IN THEIR PERFORMANCE ONE BIT. Three out of the four bandmates aren’t of drinking age and yet their professionalism and focus was that of a seasoned group, and the energy flowing out of their voices and instruments was that of a band playing to a packed house (which, reasonably speaking on a Wednesday night it was not). I got to talk to a couple of the guys’ grandfather–that’s right, I said grandfather–and he said that one of their main influences is Slip Knot, and though he normally doesn’t listen to [that kind of music] he enjoys hearing his grandsons play. And I agree, there’s something about these guys that transcends their “Grunge/Metal/Progressive” sound. Their is a jubilation to their anger-and-angst-filled rock, that they share with each other and that they seem compelled to share with whomever will listen. So if you get a chance–DO IT.

The winner of the night’s battle was Gutterfish, but to the other bands’ credit, they did bring in a pretty solid following, and I think they carried over from the previous week, but I can’t confirm this.

UPDATE: Here’s Gutterfish’s rundown of the previous Battles to Blazefest, from a chat I had/am having with them on facebook: “If that’s your honest review that’s awesome. To me its slated to show us in a bad and undeserving light. The whole I can’t confirm if we played last week comment, I will for you. We played a few weeks ago, with 3 other bands. Apparently the voting wasn’t really fair that night because fans were showing up, then leaving so they could repay to come in and vote again. We lost by 1 vote to a band from merced called no where near. We congratulated them and hungout and said good luck and left. The following week there was a rule change that would hopefully prevent that from happening again. A young band named the red coates I believe from what I hear made a big deal about it after our show and they let them and us back in because it was a close night in the votes and was unshure of the real winner. So we brought more people Wednesday and we won. Anyone of those bands had the same opportunity. We have awesome fans and have a gig in Vegas that we are actually chartering a bus for because so many people want to go. Again I appreciate you commenting here, and good luck with your site.

To which I responded: “I did a lot of research that night, went to a lot of sites and saw a lot of shit-talking that I didn’t want to repeat, so I simply said I couldn’t confirm it. I’m glad to hear your side of the story and from what I saw, 105.1 was doing everything they could to keep the voting legit the night I was there. Of course every band had the same opportunity to do what you did. And I can say, just from your facebook page, you guys worked hard to make it known you were playing Wednesday night, just by posting status messages throughout the week. It’s important for bands, just like a lot of businesses, to put an effort into their marketing, it’s essential to your success. It was NOT my intention to show you in a bad light. I wanted to be as honest as possible in my review and put forth my opinion. That’s it. I’m just a guy who had a great night listening to some great bands and I wanted to share it.

This was a GREAT NIGHT IN ROCK and I’m glad I could be a part of it. The EMCEE, The Whipping Boy, from 105.1 The Blaze, congratulated all the bands, and I concur they all were fantastic. I think Gods and Kings would have been a great fit for Blazefest, Trial would have definitely satisfied the nostalgic concertgoers, Hobo Code would have given them something different (and I think Cheap Trick fans would definitely appreciate them), but, for me personally (and it was close), I had to vote for Half8N, ’cause those little fuckers are the future of hard and classic rock.

ONE FINAL NOTE: While I seemed to tout the talents of some bands more than others, it was with the intent of my personal opinion of relevance to the event. I’m a guy who likes to put things into neat little patterns. I color coordinate socks and organize my DVDs by genre. While I wouldn’t be afraid to say a band wasn’t my cup of tea, I want there to be no doubt that I ENJOYED THE FUCK OUT OF GUTTERFISH, GODS AND MEN, TRIAL, THE HOBO CODE and HALF8N. THEY ALL ROCKED. I wish I had come earlier to hear the first band, cause I’m sure they’re feeling left out. Sorry guys. Shoot me an email or comment and I’ll be sure to give you a listen and post your link(s) too!

UPDATE: HAHAHA, YES! I threw out an offer to the band that I didn’t hear that night thinking how the hell are they going to see that, but I guess someone got ahold of them because they responded in the comments section below, so here is their info via their bassist, Kevin Wilson:

Hey Rob we were the band you missed the other night. But if you want to check us out here is a link to some songs we got and a video of wendsday night.!/culturesbreed. It was a great experience wendsday meeting the other bands and stuff. I couldnt stick around because im under age but i heard all the bands rocked that night.

One of the things I enjoy doing most with this blog is supporting local folks, be they writers, artists, musicians, actors or dancers. I don’t want to be one of those asshole critics that rips into people to feel better about myself–what’s the point in that? Anyway, God Bless and

ROCK ON! The Battle to Blazefest continues next Wednesday at the Starline, and if I don’t see you there, hopefully, I’ll see you at Blazefest on September 17th. (Cha-Ching!)

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