Prior to graduating from college, I played drums in a trio band. We mostly played Killers, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, and Led Zeppelin covers in our bassist’s basement. We maybe played once a week for a month or so and didn’t even have a proper name. But we still wanted to rock.
Anxious to play a live set, we caught wind of an “Acoustic Battle of the Bands” to be played at BYU’s 22,000 seat capacity Marriott Center. I remember thinking, “Who says we can’t rock that? It says ‘acoustic,’ not low energy or slow tempo.” So we traded our electric guitar for an acoustic/electric and proceeded to tryouts that were being held in some small theater room in the English building.
Upon arrival, we were clearly out of place. As we lugged our full drum kit, half stack bass rig, and guitar amp down the hall, dozens of Dave Mathew wannabes practiced three chord love songs in squeaky voices to admiring girlfriends. My opinion of humanity worsened a little that day. But I digress. Our name was called, we entered the room and setup stage.
“What are you going to play?” one of three judges impatiently asked. “A fast version of My baby’s got sauce,” said Mac, our then singer-guitarist and now manager of Imagine Dragons. “And if you let us, Indie Rock And Roll by The Killers,” he added. Aspiring bands were only allowed one song—we knew that. But we wanted to play. And the judges were seemingly bored after a long day of tryouts, so they agreed. “Have at it,” they said.
After a quick countdown, we were playing. An uptempo G-love and Special Sauce was in full force, and we nailed the jazzy breakdown. The judges reacted with smiling faces and nodding heads. Despite our lack of an electric guitar, we followed with The Killers and rocked that small auditorium. By this time, two of the judges were standing as we belted anthemic three-part harmonies, pummeled crash cymbals, and took the bassline for a walk. It was electric.
We finished our short set and waited on stage for a verdict. “You guys are really good,” one female judge said. “You guys would be a great opener for the show,” a second judge said, noting our energy. Both were smiling. Our theory of rocking no matter the instrument type was about to be ratified.
But not everyone in the room was as enthusiastic about our sound. “I don’t know,” said who appeared to be the still-seated lead judge. “This is suppose to be an acoustic battle of the bands. You rock too hard,” he apolitically said with a shrug. The other two judges clammed up after that. Our fate had been sealed.
While we dragged our gear out to the hallway, numerous auditioners smiled and offered their compliments. “You guys were awesome,” was a popular one. We smiled back. Although we had been left out of the big show on a technicality, we left with a sense of pride. We had achieved what we set out to do: to rock. And no preconceptions about how an “acoustic” set should sound could tell us otherwise.
This story first published to blakesnow.com in September 2009