The Bold & the Bountiful: HAAM's Corporate Battle of the Bands Rocks for a Cause

Fifteen years in, HAAM's Corporate BOTB is bolder than ever

photo by Jake Rabin

The takeaway from this year’s Corporate Battle of the Bands: These folks are bold.

Now in its 15th year, the CBOTB is probably the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians’s – HAAM’s – most impactful fundraiser. There’s something equally invigorating and honestly frightening about seeing corporate folk let their hair down (or tease it up, depending on the concept) to do some axe shredding, head banging, power ballad vocalizing in front of a crowd literally paying for their favorite from the brood. As a broke spectator, I found it a fascinating thing to observe, corporate shindigs where those onstage loosen their Corporate American corsets to entertain the masses for not insignificant amounts of cash – for an amazing cause, of course. And no one, not even the most cynical, could fault these people for putting both their pride and reputations on the line for working musicians in the city who probably don’t have the means to write off any performance as a novelty.

HAAM has done such an immense job of taking care of the musicians who call Austin home, many of whom might have had to vacate for less expensive, less saturated environs in order to make those two ends – passion and survival – meet. For every $100 donated, HAAM matches with $700. This pattern has resulted in HAAM raising well over $200,000 every year since its inception in 2009. Their goal for this year – $350,000 – is their most ambitious to date. With pre-event donations, fans adding to the pot as the night went on, and donations continuing to pour in, it would come as no surprise if they managed to exceed their goal yet again. As of the writing of this article, the event successfully raised more than $275,000.

But let’s get down to the get-down. What everyone’s curious about is just how these corporate-formed bands managed while raising money for artists who perform in front of a crowd of slightly inebriated, rowdy patrons on a regular basis. My catchphrase for the evening: “That was a bold choice!” Regardless of skill level, each band chose songs that would make even some professionals quiver with uncertainty and question every life decision that led to that very moment. But that’s exactly the point. It was clear that a vast majority of those on stage either haven’t had much experience or were performing for the first time. So they’re living out, if only for one night, an existence those who they’re raising funds for live every day.

Judges (left to right): Pixie Weyand, Kendall Antonelli, Confucius Jones, and Fresh (photo by Jake Rabin)

That being said, while the night began a bit rocky, by about the fourth act – perennial favorite The Haptics – things really started to get going.

Opening band Cloud 9 (represented by several employees from Epicor) set the standard for bold song selection early, delivering a rendition of Stevie Wonder classic "Superstition." By the time they reached their set’s finale, an energetic albeit Gringo-sized version of “La Bamba,” the front of the stage was packed with kids and their parents jumping and cheering, as if transported to a core memory of the first time they heard the Ritchie Valens classic. Sergio Gonzales Parroquin took lead, showcasing a clean voice that turned the performance into a commendable tribute to the late Valens. Cloud 9 did do their best, and it’s noticeable that they do enjoy being on stage, no matter how limited their experience.

Hot on their heels, Bad Assets, the band representing Matthew, Locke & Ritter, opened with promise. Lead vocalist Josh Cross had some power behind his notes, certainly a great deal of confidence. That confidence carried them into a surprising rendition of Franz Ferdinand stomper “Take Me Out.” (As I said, bold.) Thankfully, they nailed the opening-to-first-verse (chorus?) transition. Though it didn’t hit the chest quite as much as I would've liked, and one of the guitars definitely had a little too much sun, Bad Assets decently pulled it off musically.

The Uncommon, composed of Husch Blackwell legal experts and their families, kicked up the bold strategy a notch, opening their set a capella with the first verse of scorching power ballad “It’s All Coming Back to Me.” Isolated vocals were great, though harmonies were a little lacking in conviction. They didn't seem to be able to hear themselves, but this was their first foray on the BOTB stage. From Queen Celine to the Jackson 5 was an interesting choice. Following that with "Wherever You Will Go" by the Calling, then ending on Ike & Tina’s always electrifying rendition of “Proud Mary” gave aural form to this ragtag group of vocalists’ namesake. This cover band chose songs that ask a lot of the singers who take them on. Hit or miss, but still very interesting considering the varying vocal textures. That being said, “Proud Mary” sat better in the co-lead’s range than when she attempted to reach for Michael Jackson's adolescent high tenor. The lower register worked in her favor, especially when she let out a mighty squall. Close strong, as the advice goes.

Ascension Seton’s The Defibrillators opened with “Everybody Needs Somebody,” setting the tone for a performance that was essentially all about love. However, when they started in on "Mustang Sally," the crowd was undeniably energized. They ended with a sweet rendition of the Temptations’ silky love song, "Just My Imagination." The harmonies reached their peak, and off the back of "Mustang Sally," the confidence was certainly elevated. The Defibrillators were the most engaged with the crowd at that point.

But then … oh then …

Something shifts in you when you hear the first notes of certain songs. The Haptics, representing BTOB sponsor Cirrus Logic, started a trend of bold choices that paid dividends. The first notes of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” wrapped its claws around my hippocampus and caused me to sit up a bit straighter at the scrape. (Ya girl was activated.) On the back of what came before, did these dudes really think they had the chops to pull off something like that? Well, they certainly had the nerve. (I’ll tell you what, these bands were taking chances. It didn’t always work, but when it did work, it was astounding.) Lead singer Andy Rumelt is no Steven Tyler, but did that boy ever feel it! And the band supported him. So I bet you’re wondering if he hit the–yes … yes, he hit the high note. It took him a second to get there, but when he did … Good … GOD! Yes, The Haptics is a cover band, but they're heavy on the rock & roll and they mean it! They ended just as boldly as they started, with "Feelin' Good" (Michael Bublé, not Nina Simone). When Rumelt gained enough confidence to belt, he took it and always managed to stick the landing. There’s definitely a reason they led the evening in monetary votes before it even started.

The Anteaters of ABC Home & Commercial Services had a tall order ahead of them. It has to be some kind of illegal to follow a band that had the balls to tackle Aerosmith and Bread and competently pull both off. I’ll give it to the Anteaters: They are fabulous musicians, an indisputable fact. The vocals did pale a bit in comparison to who preceded them, but that stage presence and musicianship were no joke. This was a fun band. They certainly played like they were the headliner. While not my top band of the night, their energy was undeniable.

H-E-B’s representative, Knuckle Sammich, another perennial fan favorite, came out swinging with fists, feet, and a voice that could topple Mt. Olympus. Ladies and gentleman, we've found the metal band of the night! They opened with “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger, just to get the crowd revved. Then they straight-up floored it. What they did next was enough to shut the whole shit down! Of the bands the judges (Kendall Antonelli, Pixie Weyand, and Confucius Jones & Fresh of KUTX’s The Breaks) exclaimed must have been seasoned performers, Knuckle Sammich is verifiably a band who performers regularly and makes the CBOTB a priority on their schedule of shows. They crashed into their rendition of Bon Jovi power bomb "Wanted Dead or Alive,” thus giving us the most magical moment of the night – the audience singing so loud it shook the rafters. Then the moment that actually made me jump all the way the hell out of my seat. As soon as Dave Thornhill laid into the opening riff, I was yet again left sat in shock that a band had the unmitigated gall to attempt a song as full of range and hellfire. Despite the band who created the song, “Barracuda” is not for the faint of heart. So when Jay Pate decided he was gonna leap-frog up the scale to get to that pre-chorus note, my body involuntarily took flight, my pink skirts flying and my mouth in a wide-open grin that would’ve made the Joker look like a sensible man. “Ooooo, Barracuda." Mans hit those notes as if Ann Wilson herself was his teacher. He attacked the song with so much confidence, like there was no way he could miss. And dammit if he did … not … miss! Plus, we were blessed with the nastiest shredder on stage the entire night.

Knuckle Sammich (photo by Jake Rabin)

Rounding out the night were PNC Bank’s C Notes and Ouros's The Mag Stripes. Everyone was noticeably worn out. (What do you want? We'd just had the closest thing to a mosh pit, well, a corporate mosh pit, with Knuckle Sammich.) While the C Notes were competent musicians and the vocal stylings of the Mag Stripes were undeniably lovely, as was their rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” it was time for the night to end.

The Mag Stripes (photo by Jake Rabin)

Ultimately, this was about supporting music, musicians, and keeping the moniker “Live music capital of the world” honest. It was an entertaining evening and gave me a renewed sense of the utter glut of honest-to-God musicians this city has to offer. Here’s to next year!

Visit HAAM's website to find out the winners for the night.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

HAAM, Corporate Battle of the Bands, The Haptics, Knuckle Sammich, The Mag Stripes, The Anteaters, ACL Live

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