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Saluting teens about to rock

(L-R) Lumberjak lead guitarist Daniel Harmon, drummer Chris Purdy, bass guitarist Dillon Byron and keyboardist Derek Lee. The band, which took home last year’s People’s Choice Award, will battle it out with other groups Friday.  - Courtesy of Lumberjak
(L-R) Lumberjak lead guitarist Daniel Harmon, drummer Chris Purdy, bass guitarist Dillon Byron and keyboardist Derek Lee. The band, which took home last year’s People’s Choice Award, will battle it out with other groups Friday.
— image credit: Courtesy of Lumberjak

The eighth annual Battle of the Bands hits Island Center Hall Friday night.

In her eight years heading up Bainbridge Island’s teen Battle of the Bands, Shannon Buxton said the quality of the competitors hasn’t changed.

But the profile has.

“Now, there are a lot of kids who look like audience members when they step up to play,” she said. “And then they sort of melt back into the audience.”

At the beginning, it was punk across the board, to the degree that the judges had to paste Polaroid pictures on the wall so they wouldn’t mix up the bands. And the preponderance of ska meant heavier brass sections, which Buxton isn’t seeing so much these days.

Instead, competing groups are offering up more traditional mixes of guitar, drums, keyboards and vocals, while showing a wider and more diverse range of musical types.

Such is the M.O. of Lumberjak, a group of four Woodward eighth graders who last year won audience hearts and took home the People’s Choice Award.

They’ll be opening up Friday evening’s competition at Island Center Hall, and they are still the youngest band in the competition, and the youngest in the battle’s history.

Buxton’s observation about the growing proportion of “everyman” bands over the years resonates with Lumberjak’s Daniel Harmon, who agreed that with its mixture of indie, alternative and rock sounds, his band falls into that category.

“I think that’s us, but minus two feet,” he said.

Harmon’s deadpan acknowledgment of the band members’ youth and height as compared to competitors’ speaks to a self-awareness that’s unexpected from a 13-year-old.

He believes Lumberjak’s mix of sounds resonated with the audience last year largely because many of the other bands stuck to one style. He also says the band’s youth and “underdog” quality worked in their favor.

Harmon, along with drummer and band co-founder Chris Purdy; bass player Dillon Byron; and keyboardist Derek Lee, the band’s newest member, are all friends. They have classes together at Woodward, they like spending time together, and they agree that friendship plays a strong role in the band’s cohesiveness. They also share the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn as early inspirations.

They all began playing music at an early age, as well, and have had the benefit of both exposure to a number of instruments in the classical and rock realm, and to strong teachers who have both mentored them along the way and instilled in them the importance of practice, practice, practice.

But the most surprising source of their range, setting this generation of musicians apart from the last, are the “i’s,” “mys” and “yous”: iTunes, iPods, iPhones, mySpace, YouTube, and every other mechanism for searching, downloading and sharing tunes.

Harmon admits, in a slightly pained fashion, that he doesn’t have an iPod yet, but not for lack of wanting one.

“But I hear a lot of my sister’s music,” he said. “She’s a music fanatic.”

In preparation for Friday’s competition, Lumberjak is busy getting lyrics down for its set of original tracks – they don’t do covers yet – and getting a few more rehearsals in.

The outcome remains to be seen; Buxton says a couple of the bands are gearing up for flashy performances, like Sensual Grooves for Sensual Moves, who will feature go-go dancing, and !Llama!, who will dress in full-on Peruvian garb.

Buxton will be rooting for all of them.

“I think that more so than adults’ bands, every group and every individual goes up there and gives 110 percent,” she said. “Their soul is bare, their spirit is there, they just put their hearts into it.”

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Battle it out

The eighth annual teen Battle of the Bands will take place from 7 to 10 p.m. Feb. 1 at Island Center Hall, 8395 Fletcher Bay Road.

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