Red, blue and yellow lights illuminated a modest stage set up in front of Stetson Hall as the annual Battle of the Bands contest commenced on Oct. 20. Across Cruz Plaza, students gathered with blankets and towels in tow to sit down and listen to what was about to unfold.
What started out as a few onlookers soon became a sizable audience that would grow throughout the night. At 7 p.m., all eyes were on MCs Jordan Hester and Emily Thompson as they announced the official start of Battle of the Bands.
They explained that each act had 25 minutes to perform. They introduced the esteemed judges, each of whom would be scoring the acts. Their scores, however, were only 50 percent of what determines the winners. The rest was in the hands of the audience, who was asked to vote for their favorite by putting a slip of paper in their favorite act’s bucket on a table set up by quadworks.
Quadworks representative Kiara Williams is on the Mercer Live committee, which organizes Battle of the Bands along with other events such as homecoming and Bearstock. She believes Battle of the Bands is a particularly special event because it is actual students who are performing in front of their peers.
She said she sees music as an integral part to the Mercer community. “There’s music at sporting events, coming out of the Greeks’ houses — it’s everywhere.”
The music at Battle of the Bands was not the same music Williams describes hearing around campus. It was live music coming from members of our own Mercer family.
The first act went by the name Saint Jak and the Boys. Saint Jak is the junior journalism major Jackson Dillard.
Dillard, who normally performs solo, recruited his friend Liam Bassett to be “the boys.” Basset sang backup and played guitar.
Saint Jak is a rapper who has been practicing for years now. He first began rapping his freshman year of high school, and during his time in college, he has performed with his previous rap group, the Fresh Valley Kings.
Dillard describes his previous group as doing pretty typical rap in an over-the-top comedic style. He has since found his own voice, which incorporates more slow melodies.
“The thing I love about rap is it lets you tell a story. What sets rappers apart is how interesting their story is,” Dillard said. He raps about his own life experience, particularly relationships he has had.
The set he performed started off with some of his earlier work, which was slow and lyrically heavy. He transitioned into four songs which comprise his upcoming EP. These songs were somewhat more upbeat. He incorporated a great mix of acoustic and electronic beats for a chill but exciting feel.
Though there were only two people on stage, his movement and enthusiasm gave him more stage presence.
He finished out his set with a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”
“It was just a pleasure,” Dillard said at the end of his set.
The following act, Mason Mishael, was a stark contrast to Saint Jak who relied on his prerecorded beats.
Mishael is a singer, guitarist and pianist.
Mishael is a sophomore technical communications major who says he has been playing one instrument or another since he was a small child. He has been playing piano for almost 16 years, and he has been playing guitar a little longer than that. He also trained in violin for several years.
Like the variety in his talents, he has a variety of interest in music. Generally, he likes anything classic rock. “A lot of my friends say I’m stuck in the ’70s,” Mishael said.
The set that he performed Thursday reflected his talent and variety. With his guitar he played Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” an original composition and Darius Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel.”
He involved the audience by having them sing along to his original song, and they continued to sing with him through “Wagon Wheel.”
He then put down the guitar in favor of the piano. He then played Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” and The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Between songs, he would make cheeky and honest comments to the audience. At one point he just stopped playing because, as he explained to the audience, he had to adjust his petal.
His performance was simple and true to the original artists. He finished out with Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” He included some improvised verses that referenced Mercer’s President Bill Underwood.
“I love the response I got, it made me feel that this had a purpose,” Mishael said when he finished.
He enjoys having others connect with his music. “Something I love about music is you can just make friends with people, purely because you play an instrument. You don’t even have to speak the same language to play with each other. Music is a universal language,” Mishael said.
He hopes to create a band sometime soon and continue to be involved with music for all his life.
Up next was another solo artist, Sophie Leveille.
Leveille is a junior who studies voice at Mercer’s music school. She has done Battle of the Bands every year she has been here, and she won one year when she performed with the band Boots and Cats.
She has been musically involved all her life. She started singing when she was 3, and in 5th grade, she picked up piano to accompany her own singing.
“I’ve been writing my own songs all my life. The first song I wrote, I was three, and it was called ‘Jesus Loves Me.’ I would always write stuff to get my feelings out,” Leveille said.
She writes about how she sees life, about relationships and about finding your place in life. Her personal style is something unique.
“Somebody told me that I sounded like a mix Lana Del Rey and Adele. Be prepared to hear a new spin on soul-pop, that’s me,” Leveille said.
She took that onstage when she played a set that mixed covers and original works. All of her songs featured her with only her piano to keep her company. She sang with a powerful voice, backed by beautiful piano.
The cheers of the audience signaled they connected to her sound and to the moving lyrics she sang. One of the original songs she played, “Cherry Blossoms,” used the imagery of cherry blossoms to describe her feelings. She was inspired by Macon’s Cherry Blossom Festival.
“There are lots of music things happening in Macon. Macon is so involved in immersing themselves in the music,” Leveille said.
“I’m happy I didn’t mess anything up. I’m relieved and excited,” she said after getting off the stage. She was promptly swarmed with friends waiting for a turn to give her a hug.
Between acts, the MCs invited anyone to the stage to freestyle. One student took the stage and showed off his quick rhyming prowess.
Next up was the first full band of the night, Garfield and the Not-so-top Knots.
The name for this band comes from lead singer and electric guitarist Caleb Henning’s resemblance to actor Andrew Garfield and the fact that members of their band used to sport a top knot, whereas now they do not.
The other members are lead female vocalist and acoustic guitarist Abby Henry, pianist and violinist Allen Kim and drummer Brady Bradshaw. The band formed after they all met through RUF, a campus ministry group.
“I think music has been always important to me with faith. I think that for a lot of the university fellowships, the worship is a big aspect; people can come together for music,” Bradshaw said.
These musicians delivered an upbeat performance, covering hit pop and rock songs. They played a more rock-oriented cover of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” Kim broke out the viola for their rendition of Coldplay’s “Fix You.”
They finished with a mashup of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” and The Chainsmokers’ “Closer.” On stage, the band gave an animated performance, which lead to cheers and dancing by audience members.
“I think we did good, but it wasn’t on par with what we have been doing. We are critical, but all musicians are. It could have been worse,” Bradshaw said with a smile after the performance.
The final performers for the night were a group called Three 17.
The band is comprised of lead singer and acoustic guitarist Justis Ward, his roommate Matthew Harris on the keys, his brother Mark Harris on electric bass, and friends Earl Bushe and Ehjayson Henry on electric guitar and drums, respectively.
The Harris brothers met Ward playing at church, and they became friends. “We all are similar minded. As soon as we got together we just meshed; we are all jokesters,” Ward said.
While as a whole, the entire band does not often play together, Ward and Matthew Harris play gigs together often. They play a variety of genres, but always with a soulful twist.
“Because of their skill level, we can pick up anything,” Ward said, referring to the other members of his band.
Matthew Harris said the band’s sound is all about “good vibes.” “Vibes is such a good word, because we are vibing together and our instruments are vibing, and hopefully the audience will be vibing with us,” Ward said.
Ward and Harris want to bring the house down, knock them dead, and absolutely kill it when they perform, but they do it “for the glory of God,” Ward said.
They started their set with their rendition of “Waiting on the World to Change” by John Mayer. By the time they started this song, the audience had reached its maximum size, and almost everyone stood up to get closer to the band.
The band was all smiles as they started the next song, “Sugar” by Maroon 5. The band was genuinely having fun as they played. This song highlighted Ward’s vocals and his ability to harmonize.
Next the band played their own song, “Friend Zone.” Ward took the time during this song to introduce the rest of the band. Each member played a solo on their instruments, and every solo was a piece of art own its own.
They slowed it down for the next one with “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran. Audience members held up phones or lighters and swayed.
The final song of the evening was “Treasure” by Bruno Mars. The crowd was electric. After the band finished, the audience called for an encore, but by the rules of the competition, the acts could not have any extra time.
“I feel on top of the world. We really came together tonight. It wasn’t a matter of winning, but if we did, I’d be ecstatic,” Ward said after performing the last act that night.
“I think all the performers did great. We have such talent at Mercer,” said MC Emily Thompson.
Ultimately, Three 17 won the competition.
Ward took the stage again, but his focus was not so much on receiving the prize as it was making sure the other members of his band got on stage with him that last time.
Overall, members of Quadworks said they were satisfied with the event.
“It was very successful. We had a great turnout, way bigger than last year,” said a member of Quadwork’s Mercer Live committee, Mariyun Khun.