The Pitt News

Bands battle for spotlight

Battle of the Bands gives student bands the opportunity to perform on the big stage. Christine Lim | Staff Photographer

Battle of the Bands gives student bands the opportunity to perform on the big stage. Christine Lim | Staff Photographer

Battle of the Bands gives student bands the opportunity to perform on the big stage. Christine Lim | Staff Photographer

By Annabelle Hanflig / for The Pitt News

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O’Hara wasn’t a solid act when the group first auditioned for Battle of the Bands in 2013.

“We were pretty disjointed at that point, as we only had three members,” O’Hara’s lead singer and founding member, Jake Sternberg, said. “Of course we lost the battle the first time we played.”

They stormed the battle stage again the following year, only this time they came out on top. O’Hara won first place at last April’s Battle of the Bands and opened for American Authors at Bigelow Bash. Now, they’re promoting an EP, playing major music festivals and touring the Midwest.

Weeks before every major concert on campus, the Pitt Program Council holds Battle of the Bands to find a student act with the potential to bring a crowd of hundreds to its feet. Pitt students have brawled with drumsticks and bass guitars in hopes of filling the opening slot at for the likes of Lupe Fiasco and Ke$ha at events like Fall Fest and Bigelow Bash for the past 17 years. Two judges from Pitt’s student radio station, WPTS, and one other special events judge from PPC decide the winner.

By hosting Battle of the Bands, PPC gives students a chance to do what most small acts will only dream of.

O’Hara went from house shows in South Oakland to opening for an international artist in a matter of weeks. Sternberg said playing both Battle and Bigelow Bash “opened our eyes to how hard we would have to work to get where we wanted to be with our music.”

This year alone the band has released an EP, played at Musikfest ­— a major 10-day festival in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — and embarked on a multi-state tour.

There’s more to competing in Battle of the Bands than getting to open for a major artist.

PPC Special Events Coordinator Shawn Cassidy said the real reason for the battle is to provide a place “where bands on campus can showcase their talent, and to implement some of this talent into our annual concerts. This also gives student acts the opportunity to perform in front of a large crowd.”

The battle gives aspiring artists, like junior psychoogy major Voodoo Lu, a chance to put on their first live show with a crowd.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for me to finally get on stage for once,” Lu said. “I’ve been recording for a while, but I haven’t had any live performances yet so it was the first one.”


It’s hard enough for bands like O’Hara to get past the local bar scene, much less garner an audience of hundreds.

For Pitt musicians looking to make themselves known, the difference between 14 people in a basement and 400 people on a professional stage lies in the uncertainty of the battle.

Indigo Zoo, who won second place at this fall’s battle, joined first place — The Naughties — to open for Walk the Moon at Fall Fest after only playing one show together before last year’s Engineering Week in the spring.

“Other than [that first show], we had only had our own practice time to prepare,” said drummer Tim Heller, a junior engineering major.

Despite the lack of practice, Indigo Zoo found themselves on stage in front of hundreds of people days after the battle.

“Winning gave us a lot of confidence in what we’re doing, and it gave us the opportunity to play in front of a great crowd and with some other amazing bands,” Heller said.

PPC budgets for 10 bands to compete, which sign up voluntarily, with two alternatives if some acts drop out. It’s first come, first serve, as the first 10 bands to register are the only ones who will take the battle stage.

For the sake of giving every Pitt student the chance to live out their dreams, past battle winners are not permitted to audition.

“It’s not every day that a college band gets to play on a huge stage in front of hundreds of people in the center of campus,” said Stenberg on opening last April’s Bigelow Bash. “It might be the biggest stage I ever get to play, and I got to play it with some of my best friends.”


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Bands battle for spotlight