Ready to rock? Battle ’04 is bigger, better |

Ready to rock? Battle ’04 is bigger, better

Stewart Oksenhorn

When local pickers Chris “Biff” Phillips and Dan Sadowsky cooked up their first Basalt Battle of the Bands five year ago, the sets alternated between student bands and some of the valley’s finest professional musicians.

This year, Phillips and Sadowsky – who run the Battle of the Bands through their nonprofit organization, the National Jam Foundation – have had to drop the professional acts. Not that there wasn’t interest, not that it wasn’t fun to have them, and not that the pros were out-rocking the kids.

The kids have squeezed out the adults. With 34 kids bands battling it out in this year’s event – set for Saturday, May 15, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Basalt Lions Park – there was no room left in the seven-hour stretch for the grown-ups. And that, said Sadowsky, is an indication of how successful the Battle of the Bands has been.

“It’s done what we hoped it would do,” said Sadowsky. “There were 10-12 bands in the first one and the number has increased every year. And the prizes have gotten better. The quality of the music has absolutely gotten better.”

The biggest measure of success has been the enthusiasm level. “The kids come up to me a month ahead of time and tell me, ‘We’re ready to play,'” said Sadowsky. “They practice all year for this.”

The Fränzl Foundation raises money through donations. The money is then distributed to the music department of each school represented in the Battle, which means virtually every school between Aspen and Rifle. In five years, some $18,000 has been doled out and used for such purposes as purchasing equipment and hiring a music coach. Winning acts – in the categories of school bands and garage bands for each age division – earn extra cash for their schools. In addition, there are prizes, such as recording time and instruments, for winning acts. Among this year’s prizes is a Fender bass guitar for the best bassist.

A primary reason behind the founding of the Battle was simply to give kids a chance to play. That idea, too, has been expanded. Several months ago, Phillips and Sadowsky set up an evening of music in Carbondale, featuring four of the top acts from last year’s Battle of the Bands. The two aim to stage more such events.

In addition to growing musically, the Battle has turned from a small-scale concert into a full-fledged event. Surrounding this year’s Battle will be food vendors, art contests, a climbing wall and more.

And then there is the music. Sadowsky expects to see most every form of music on the Battle stage: folky solo performers, school-sponsored concert bands, punk, Phish-inspired rockers, Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ jazz band – and plenty of death-metal bands representing the downvalley schools.

“It may not be your favorite style of music,” said Sadowsky. “But it’s still amazing to see how good they are at it.”

The National Jam Foundation is still accepting donations for this year’s Battle of the Bands. For further information, call Patti Stranahan at 922-2342 or 379-5237.

Organizers are also looking for volunteers for the event. For more information, call Biff Phillips at 927-BIFF (2433) or 379-BIFF.

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is

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