As September comes to a chilly end, class loads and COVID-19 fears weigh heavy on Mississippi State University students, prompting the desire for an escape of some sort. For many MSU students, this escape came in the form of Battle of the Bands, an annual concert hosted by Music Maker Productions that took place Friday in the Bettersworth auditorium in Lee Hall.
In a typical year, bands compete in Battle of the Bands to win the honor of opening for the headlining artist at Bulldog Bash, a large, free outdoor concert typically held in the fall semester. However, this year the likelihood of a crowded event like Bulldog Bash is slim to none. Instead of competing for the opening slot in the coming concert, this year the competing bands played in hopes of winning a cash prize.
Madeline Emery, a senior majoring in kinesiology, serves as this year's director for Music Maker Productions (MMP). Emery gave insight into what the selection process was like this year.
Bands submitted an application along with a video performance. The number of bands varies year to year, and this year four bands were selected to play at the event. They included the bands Beat House Live, Catfish Caviar, Celery Teeth and a rapper by the name of Millennial.
Emery explained MMP appreciates Battle of the Bands for the unique opportunity it presents to showcase smaller, local bands.
"We do bring well-known acts, but we also love collaborating with smaller artists because, at the end of the day, they are who make up Starkville," Emery said.
Each act succeeded in capturing the audience with their 20-minute time slot, socially-distanced and all. With genres ranging from punk-rock to jazz to rap, there was something for everyone in attendance. The four judges evaluated the artists based on their sound, lyrics, transitions and stage presence. The results were the first-ever tie in Battle of the Bands history, with Millennial and Beat House Live splitting the cash prize.
With much of last semester's concerts being canceled, it has been a long time since most students have experienced live music. Emery expressed her enthusiasm for MSU's first safe live music event in nearly a year.
"For us here I think people need something to look forward to. While there is usually a lot to do in Starkville, much of it falls into big social gatherings that might not be the safest to do right now. Being able to go and enjoy live music is really important," Emery said.
Jay Warren, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, competed in Battle of the Bands with his band Beat House Live. Warren echoed Emery's excitement as he was looking forward to the community aspect of the event.
"COVID has caused a certain degree of separation among the student body, and I feel like especially for us, Battle of the Bands represents a way to bring people together and connect people through music. Having the opportunity to at least listen to live music, and from our end perform live music, of course, is pretty special," Warren said.
Joy Cariño, a 2020 graduate from MSU, plays the keys for Celery Teeth. While the band has played together for over a year, it has been a long time since their last live performance. At first, being back in a concert environment, especially a competitive one, was slightly overwhelming.
"It was a wild night. I hadn't been in a space like that in so long, and it's really weird to be in a space like that during COVID times. I was pretty nervous because in other gigs you're just having fun, but with Battle of the Bands the stakes are a little higher because it's a competition. Once we got up there it was lots of fun though," Cariño said.
MMP went to extensive lengths to make sure the concert was not only an enjoyable music experience but a safe event for all students. In order to attend, students were required to register on Cowbell Connect. Upon arrival, everyone scanned in with their net identification. Seats in the auditorium were marked off in order to enforce social distancing guidelines, and audience members sat separately with their masks on for the duration of the event.
For MMP, safety is a prerequisite for the privilege that is live music. Emery expressed the organization is doing all they can to safely promote live music. She is optimistic for the rest of the year in regards to bringing music to campus.
"We are trying very hard to make sure everyone is safe. We are going to try as hard as we can, whether that be virtually, at limited capacity or outside, to bring live music in some capacity to campus. Live music is what people need right now, so we are trying very hard to make that happen," Emery said.