Nothing brings the scene together like a little bit of friendly competition. That’s something provided once a year at KJHK 90.7’s annual Farmer’s Ball, where eight bands go head to head in a battle royale, the eventual victor receiving the opening slot at Day on the Hill and recording time at Red House Studios.
As always, combatants are initially spread over two nights at The Bottleneck. The first, Wednesday, April 19, will pit Persona, The Lake District, Aerialuxe, and Sturgeon Mill against one another, and on the next evening, Boycott Violets, T-3 Productions Presents The Coop, Esoteric, and Electronimo will trade blows. The top two vote-getters from each night will return and duke it out Saturday, April 22, until only one band is left standing — for there can be only one.
The eight bands competing were whittled down from almost 100 entries, which KJHK Station Manager Matt Dunehoo and seven other staffers had the task of listening to. “We got together at Music Director Amy Stortz’s house and listened to all of the 96 submissions, which we were totally stoked to have that many,” Dunehoo says. “We listened to two or three songs, about a minute and a half each to help get the feel of a song, and then on index cards we scored them between one and five. After all had been scored and tallied, we took the top 16 and looked at those and listened to them again and then made our decisions from there.”
The results ended up being an interesting cross-section of the scene. “The final eight are a good showing of the different styles and different aspects of what’s happening in this area musically, which is what it’s supposed to be,” he says. “It’s also supposed to be a place for bands to be showcased that are building a following and looking to do things.”
During the judging, the panel didn’t know what they were listening to. “The anonymity is to promote fairness,” Dunehoo explains, adding that, of course, some bands are going to be familiar among a group that goes to shows as much as it goes to class but that influencing the vote is strictly against the rules. “Although some things are recognizable — one person may know what something is and one person may not — you’ve got to be tactful in a situation like that and be careful not to step on anyone else’s shoes, or ears, as the case may be. If somebody knows the band, they don’t go, ‘Oh, that’s my friend’s band’s submission.’ They don’t say anything about it.”
Guests at the Farmer’s Ball will have the opportunity to let their voices be heard in the final vote, though not as much as they did in years past. The 2000 contest marks the first time a panel of judges has been brought in to arbitrate the proceedings in conjunction with ballots cast by the public at large. “We wanted to incorporate music authorities from around the community, as well as our own executive staffers. I know we’ve already got (PitchWeekly Music/Film Editor) Jon Niccum, Bill Pile from Avalanche Productions, and Jon Harrison from Love Garden. They’ve all agreed to come in, and it’s percentaged out between them, and the remaining percent will be crowd vote,” Dunehoo shakily explains, admitting that he’s still not quite sure how the whole thing works. “It’s a government-issued mathematical formula that I don’t quite understand. I had to have (General Manager) Gary Hawke actually get up and make a thorough Dry-Erase marker presentation.”
Giving it all away
University of Kansas theater and film professor Charles “Chuck” Berg has a record collection valued at $164,000 that any jazz fan would kill for, numbering more than 7,000 records by such artists as John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Louis Armstrong, and Stan Getz. The collection won’t be his for much longer, though, because he’s giving it all away to the Thomas Gorton Music Library in KU’s Murphy Hall.
“Actually, the donation is from my wife and myself,” Berg says. “It boils down to this: We have this wonderful record collection and we were wondering, ‘Well, what are we going to do with this now that the CD revolution has taken place?'”
It’s a decision that’s been a long time coming. “I started thinking, I guess about five years ago, about the possibility of paring back on some of my collection in some fashion because LPs consume quite a bit of space and weigh a fair amount, but at the same time, they’re absolutely valuable. There’s something about vinyl in terms of sound quality that’s still absolutely unique in terms of its sonic warmth,” he theorizes. “There are so many albums that were either self-produced or on teeny-tiny independent labels that sort of came and went and had their moment, so I have a lot of material that is really pretty valuable for archival purposes, and I didn’t just want to ship them off to Goodwill. I wanted to make sure the records had a good home.”
The memory of Dick Wright, curator of the KU Jazz Archives who passed away last December, played a part as well. “Dick was sort of KU’s walking encyclopedia of jazz for decades and decades. He was an extremely important influence in the jazz community by virtue of a jazz class he taught at KU and probably to the general public largely because of his Saturday morning jazz program on KANU, which really became sort of a forum for what’s going on in the jazz community,” Berg explains. “Dick and I had gotten to be friends, and at any rate, he had donated a lot of his collection to archives, and I thought that was a wonderful thing.”
Berg isn’t just a professor at KU; he and his wife are also graduates. More than 40 years of Berg’s passion for jazz is in that collection, though he’s glad the donation has given them the chance to give something back to the university. “Instead of having them sitting in somebody’s home, they probably should be kept in an institution setting, where they would be available to students, to teachers, to scholars, and so on,” he says. “Passing the record collection on to KU, an institution that I have very close personal ties with and indeed, I guess, ‘love’ is an appropriate word, was an opportunity to perhaps enhance part of it.”
The faces in Killswitch should be familiar ones to followers of local heavy metal, because three of the guys in the five-piece used to play in Canvas. “We had made a decision through the band that we wanted to do some different things musically, so we decided to go on and come up with a new name, start a whole new band, new songs, and everything,” says bassist Lance Collier. “We had discussed adding the whole electronic thing, and it was never agreed upon by all the members of the band, so that’s one aspect of the music we wanted to add.”
The impetus to change things up initially came from outside Killswitch, suggesting those three, who were still in Canvas at the time, work with a new player even though that left the former band with only one member. “There was this guy, Mark Chaussee. He played on the Small Deadly Space album with (former Judas Priest singer) Rob Halford in Fight, and he also played on Danzig’s Blackacidevil,” Collier explains. “We went out to Minneapolis for a week and jammed with him for a while, and then he came down here for a week, but we just weren’t on the same page. We got a local boy from Lawrence (guitarist Larry Mason) to fill the spot.” Canvas has since reformed too. “There’s no bad blood; it’s just two different bands.”
There was a lesson to be learned from the Chaussee experience. “Never try to recruit someone who has already been there,” Collier says. “He was a really cool guy, but he’s opened up for Metallica and been on the Metallica tour. He’s done the arena with 70,000 people, and we’re a bunch of country boys from KC, here in the Midwest, and didn’t really have anything going for us.”
That’s only partially true, actually. During the recording of its self-titled debut disc, Killswitch found a gimmick that lives inside the singularly named drummer’s pants. “Chacci was running around showing his behind and his balls. He drank all of our producer’s liquor in the house, got drunk, and was running around naked. That’s his trademark thing, he likes to whip his balls out on stage and smack his drums with them,” Collier says, bewildered yet amused. “He is an odd cat. If nothing else, we do entertain.” With that said, visit the band’s Web site, www.rockinkc.com/killswitch, or check Killswitch out at The Bottleneck on Tuesday, April 25, opening for Ultraspank, or with Thrust at The Hurricane on Thursday, April 27, at your own discretion.
Chances are slim you’ll ever sit across from Regis Philbin or even get to compete in the fastest finger competition for a shot at that chance, so quit dreaming about it. Instead, head over to The Bottleneck and play Trivia Smackdown on Sunday nights. Sure, the stakes aren’t as high, but with co-hosts Andy Morton, formerly of Danger Bob and cover band Star 80, and Avalanche Productions’ Josh Hunt, it’s still a lot more entertaining, save only for when some poor loser misses the $100 question on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.
The rules are simple, but the questions aren’t, sometimes reaching Jeopardy levels of difficulty, though without that answers-in-the-form-of-a-question nonsense. Each team gets asked four questions per round and on each turn, the team picks a category. Correct answers get 100 points, but if missed, the other teams can steal it for 50. Points are doubled in round number two, and there’s also a little thing called Smackdowns, of which teams get one per round. A team can Smackdown another and then the Smackdownees must answer the question. If they get it right, they get double points, but if they don’t, the Smackdowners get the doubled points and everyone has a chance to steal.
It’s the Smackdown twist that adds some drama to the game, Morton says. “Smackdowns are a good strategy tool to keep you in the game and move others out of the way. They’re there to increase the competition and bring out the bad sports in everybody. What fun is any game that entails ‘Good sportsmanship’? Teams that don’t seem very smart get beat up on, and everybody seems to like that.”
Also popular are the categories that Morton and Hunt, who are responsible for all the writing and researching that goes into each game, come up with. “In one round, you can have categories like World History right next to a category about Full House, the TV show, of course,” Morton says. “The best category ever was one called Mystery Date, which was worded like a dating personals ad, but all of the answers were serial killers. An example is ‘All right, ladies, he’s the hulking menace who’s known as the Co-Ed Killer. He likes murdering hitchhikers and having sex with the bodies.’ His name was Edmund Kemper, by the way. That was a favorite, as well as the Pirate Talk category. ‘Last Train to Clarrrrrksville’ was an answer.”
Of course, with the hosts’ professional background, many of the questions involve musical topics. One recent category, Chocolate & Cheese & Beelzebubba, sought knowledge of all things relating to lyrics by Ween or The Dead Milkmen. The category, so named by combining two of these eclectic bands’ album titles, proved a real stumper for many of the teams, which quite frankly couldn’t name a song by either act, let alone recite lyrics. Morton and Hunt also employ a DAT player for every round that plays an audio-only clue. These particular categories have ranged from classical composers to ’90s metal bands.
When Trivia Smackdown has run its course, though it’s doubtful that will be any time soon with the current demand for game shows so high even Maury Povich has one, Morton has his next career move already thought out. “I suppose that when we’re done hosting the game, I’ll stop writing my own questions and start covering other people’s.”
Send local music information to Robert Bishop or J.J. Hensley at firstname.lastname@example.org.