Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Road to Bonnaroo

The road to Bonnaroo is long, and even longer once you see the stretch of tens of thousands of vehicles, lined bumper to bumper, for miles and miles, at a dead stop, on the shoulder of I-24. Wait...that's not the road I'm talking about.

I'm talking about the battle of bands contest, that Bonnaroo held for Tennessee area bands.

The Road to Bonnaroo was held on three seperate nights, over the past two months at Nashville's Mercy Lounge. Twenty-four bands competed, that makes eight per night, with one band going home the winner, earning a spot to play at Bonnaroo this summer.

Festival organizers are making the dreams come true for these three lucky bands: The Features, The Protomen and Heypenny.

The Features are an indie-rock band from Murfreesboro, who despite being carried by Universal at one time, have had rather limited success in the U.S., although they have a very loyal following in the southeastern states, as well as the United Kingdom.

Once dubbed the "local band most likely to succeed", they were dropped from Universal after a year, when they refused to cover a Beatles song for a credit card commercial.

The Features have never been about building their success through commercialization. They have opted to take the road less traveled - doing things on their own terms, dispite the difficulties and challenges they were likely to face.

The band has had a few members leave throughout their fifteen year career, but some of the core original members still remain. Matt Pelham and Roger Dabbs studied music at Middle Tennessee State University, where they would meet drummer Jason Taylor. Taylor joined but left the band in 1998, being replaced by Rollum Haas. Former members, Don Sergio and Parrish Yaw, met while at Tennessee Technological University.

The Features were also signed to local label, Spongebath Records, but their first two full-length albums made during this time were never released. Universal re-released "The Beginning" EP in 2004, followed by their first officially released album, Exhibit A. They later gained a lot of exposure opening for another Tennessee band, Kings of Leon.

Speaking of the Features, they'll be appearing tonight at the Southgate House, in the parlour, with another band playing Bonnaroo this year, Those Darlins. The show is $10 and starts at 9 pm.

Also from Murfreesboro, are the Protomen. Best known for composing an original rock opera based on the popular video game, Mega Man, very little is known about this band. They formed in 1993 and insist on wearing costumes and using code-names, even when being interviewed.

According to the band, Murphy and Panther met by accident in "the middle of the state of volunteers" and "delivered the fury from their instruments and an army was discovered."

Their music is heavily inspired by the music you'll hear in Mega Man, although they fuse it together with hard rock, and never directly borrow from the original score. Their stage presence has been compared to that of Daft Punk. They've also been known to occasionally play music from the Rocky series of movies.

Heypenny is an indie-rock band from Nashville, influenced by the Beatles, Radiohead, Wilco, Coldplay and Elliott Smith.

The story starts with Ben Elkins, who moved from Arkansas to Chattanooga, where he began to play in a jamband called Kingfisher. He was introduced to indie music by some friends, and later became interested in making music with the feel of both jam and indie styles. That leads us to Heypenny's debut album, Use These Spoons. The album featured several local musicians, although Elkins performed most of the tracks by himself. It was also named top local album of the year (2005) by the Chattanooga based magazine, The Pulse.

Elkins later moved to Nashville, and Heypenny would become complete when a few of the musicians who worked on Use These Spoons, and a few others, would join.

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