Musical battle begins in the 'burbs

Brundle Fry bandmates Josh Selzer and Jennie Simonson cozy up as sophomore Barrack Hebrew Academy student Lev Ziskind performs. (Ashley Nguyen /
Brundle Fry bandmates Josh Selzer and Jennie Simonson cozy up as sophomore Barrack Hebrew Academy student Lev Ziskind performs. (Ashley Nguyen /

For the fourth consecutive year, the Battle of the ‘Burbs is on.

Last night marked the first set of auditions for a musical event that serves as a “common denominator” for the Main Line, said Paula Singer. Singer serves as the co-director of the Coalition for Youth of Lower Merion and Narberth’s Youth Advisory Council, which partnered up with MilkBoy Coffee and Harcum Music School to provide local high school musicians with a chance to compete.

Recalling past years, Singer said the range of people who come to the Battle of the ‘Burbs varies, which is a heartening thing to see in a community that often feels separated from its youth.

“It’s packed in here,” she said of past years. “There are little kids running around and adults in the back. It’s really amazing to see.”

In 2010, 17 acts from area private and public high schools signed up to audition for the coveted eight spots scheduled to perform at the Feb. 4 competition, which will take place at the MilkBoy in Ardmore at 7 p.m. This year, the number of acts jumped to 28 (one ‘burb band from Moorestown, N.J., even signed up).

“When I was a kid, we had to petition to play at other high schools’ battle of the bands,” said Gillen Riggs, the promotions and booking coordinator at MilkBoy as well as a judge for the competition. “This gives different high schools a chance to compete altogether.”

Wednesday night alone had performers outplaying the patter of the rain from the Baldwin School, Lower Merion High School and the Barrack Hebrew Academy.

With so many acts, the four judges will soak in the stage presence of young musicians up until the last minute: Following Wednesday night’s audition, two more are scheduled for Jan. 18 and 25 at MilkBoy.

Judge Michael Caroto, the music program coordinator at Harcum, encourages community members to stop by. Aside from stage presence, originality and talent, the four-person judges panel will be watching for audience reaction.

“It’s about trying to separate yourself,” said Caroto, who also fosters talent by holding Harcum open-mic nights the first Wednesday of every night at MilkBoy. “If you’re going to do a cover, make the song your own.”

But despite the coveted top prize – five hours of studio time at MilkBoy's recording studio as well as a chance to work with MC and Ropeadope record label founder Andy Blackman Hurwitz – there will be no bloodshed. Except, perhaps, from freshman Lower Merion High School student Matt Kaufman’s guitar, which apparently “kills hipsters.”

“Woody Guthrie had a sticker on his guitar that said, ‘This machine kills fascists,’” Kaufman said after auditioning with his band Brundle Fry. “I guess I’m trying to channel that a little.”

The Battle of the ‘Burbs will be held Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. at the MilkBoy Coffee in Ardmore, located at 2 E. Lancaster Avenue. Admission is $5. For more information, check out the event's Facebook page.

Below are the four auditions from last night. From top to bottom: 

Junior Charlotte Morris of the Baldwin School performs an original song entitled, "Stay Strong." Sophomore Lev Ziskind of the Barrack Hebrew Academy began playing classical guitar nine years ago. Five Lower Merion High School students make up Brundle Fry, who already booked a show at the Trocadero. Bandmates include: Senior Jeremy Lordon (vocals), juniors Josh Salzer, Jennie Simonson (guitarists), Taj Reilly (drummer) and freshman Matt Kaufman (bass guitar). Lower Merion High School sophomore Ariel Wyner also is a part of his high school's A Capella group.