The Annual Battle of the Bands, one of the longest running musical special events in the Bay Area, turns 50 on Feb. 9, 2013, when it returns to its home at the Chabot College Performing Arts Center in Hayward.
As a child of the 1950s who grew up in the suburban East Bay flatlands, the Battle of the Bands was my and many of my contemporaries' first encounter with the live rock scene.
At age 11 my neighbor friend and I somehow persuaded our mothers to let us attend our first Battle of the Bands. We saw a flyer about it stapled to a telephone poll and excitedly passed notes about it in school for days leading up to the big event. It was the hot ticket in town.
We donned our bell-bottom jeans, Nehru jackets, leather fringe moccasins and love beads. Although no drugs were involved, for some odd reason we came prepared to camouflage their smell, wearing a dab of patchouli oil and chewing scented violet gum. Our only food source during the concert was Pixy Stixs and barbecue potato chips, which we smuggled under our shirts.
My mother dropped us off curbside in her whale of a station wagon with strict instructions not to leave the venue until she picked us up at a predetermined time. I still don't remember how we got home for certain (you can chalk that up to me having a "senior moment" or "selective memory" — take your pick), but I vaguely recall some older boys and a low-rider car being part of the equation.
The concert, known by locals simply as "The Battle," was "groovy." It was really "bad" and "so boss" (which meant good in the Bay Area in the '60s). Forget the Beatles. We now had our own local rock stars to squeal over. My friend and I even became pint-sized groupies, tracking down our favorite Battle of the Band competitors via the Hayward/Castro Valley White Pages then writing them love letters via snail mail and calling them over and over again from our rotary dial phones.
You can read an interesting history of that era, including a chapter about one of my absolute favorites of the time (the Castro Valley-bred Bristol Box Kite Band) in a book compiled by Bruce Tahsler called The San Francisco East Bay Scene Garage Bands From the '60s Then and Now.
Some of the bands which have competed in the Battle of the Bands over the years have gone onto full-blown stardom. According to the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District (H.A.R.D.), which sponsors the event, Faith No More, Y & T, Deep Purple, Mr. Big, Billy Satellite and Metallica all played on the Battle of the Bands stage. You can go here to see a partial list of past Battle of the Bands winners.
Auditions for the 2013 Battle of the Bands take place Jan. 5 in Hayward. You can read details about the application and audition process here. If you need more information about how to apply to compete, call (510) 888-0211.
Prizes for winners change from year to year. In the past, some awards have been complimentary photo sessions, musical equipment, free advertising and recording studio time.
Oh, and one last thing before I forget. If you were a member of the Bristol Box Kite Band of Castro Valley or any of a number of other groups that competed in the Battle during the late 1960s, please know I am truly sorry for all those hang-up calls. Really.
Peace, Love and Rock n' Roll.