March 8, 2007
Rock ‘n’ roll dreams come true at the Westside JCC
A billboard in front of the Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC) read, "Battle of the Bands." Admittedly, the Westside JCC is not the place you'd normally go to watch bands play, but the center is hoping to change that.
In the three years that Brian Greene has been the Westside JCC's director, he's created programs designed to serve the eldest and youngest groups of the Jewish community, but he hasn't been able to find a market that will attract teens. Greene and the center's press rep, Harvey Farr, enlisted the help of Farr's teenage son for advice on what kind of program would get his peers interested, and the Battle of the Bands concept was born.
The rules for the Feb. 24 event: Pick three amateur bands and put them on stage for 20 minutes, and have them compete for audience attention by their musical prowess, energy and stage presence. The winning band struts off the stage with gift certificates to Sam Ash and more importantly, bragging rites. But would this idea really fly? Battle of the Bands had a good turnout with 300 people in attendance.
There was a hubbub of voices all around the Westside JCC; everyone seemed to know each other. The girls chitchatted about their outfits and the cutest member of each band. The boys, dressed in jeans and kippot, joked around with one another about girls, whom they were shy about approaching.
Finally, unity arrived when they all began a vocal chant that syllabically stunted the first band's name into "Eu-phor-i-a." A cover of Nirvana's hit, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," exploded the crowd into a moving mass of flailing arms and crowd surfing. Jon Calmus' savvy front-man antics, which included throwing water on the audience, made for an energy-packed performance.
Next up was Gravity's Love. The musicality of this band was evident from the start due in no small part to the piano parts derived by Isaac Himmelman, also the band's singer. He was charismatic and easy on the eyes, a rock star in training. Himmelman comes from a musical family and took the love of the audience all in stride. In between songs he quipped, "I know where you all are coming from. This morning I went to shul, but tonight I'm ready to rock 'n' roll."
The final band of the evening, 10 Seconds Later, had a definite passion for playing, but they lacked stage experience. When the judging concluded, Gravity's Love came out on top.
By 2008, some of the band members who participated this year will be in college, while others like Himmelman plan on studying the Talmud in Israel and others still will be onto the next big thing. Greene and Farr are hoping to make the Battle of the Bands an annual event.
"We're hoping that we can encourage kids of all denominations to participate in programs like Battle of the Bands because we offer a safe environment," Greene said, adding that he's even planning to open a center designed just for teens sometime in the next two years. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/wjccbattleofthebands.