The Battle of the Teen Bands is Back: High School Rockers Finally Get to Play

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The band Flooded Harbour practices in East Quogue on Saturday, June 5. Dana Shaw photo.

By Sophie Griffin

After a long drought, music, like so much else, is coming back this summer. Whether through new releases, live performance or the return of touring, music and musicians are reemerging cicada-like back into our lives, and it truly couldn’t be soon enough.

After its cancellation last June due to COVID-19, the 18th Battle of the Bands is finally set to go on Friday, June 11. Hosted by the Southampton Youth Bureau and taking place at Ponquogue Beach in Hampton Bays, the teen band battle features young musicians from the East End competing for the top prize.

Qualifying bands must have at least one member who is a high school student residing in the Town of Southampton and consist of a minimum of three performing musicians. Genres and styles vary, but one thing is shared by all — a desire to get back to the thrill of live music. And, of course, an ambition to win.

This year, just two high school bands are competing: En Fuego and Flooded Harbour. In addition, three-time Battle of the Bands winner Road Trip is returning for a special guest performance. Both competing bands will be given a half-hour slot to perform their set list and the top winner will receive a plaque and other assorted prizes as well as the glory conferred by the competition.

“Last year, obviously, everything was at a standstill with all of our events,” said Peter Strecker, the senior neighborhood aide at the Southampton Youth Bureau. “We had to really get creative and figure out a way on how to engage these kids in some sort of music program. So we actually hosted three virtual talent shows last year and this year, which worked out great, but I think there’s definitely an excitement for in-person performances.”

Strecker explained that the band battle typically draws up to 700 audience members and marks the unofficial start of summer for local teens. While five to seven bands took part in past competitions, the disruption of the past year has hindered participation this time around.

“Usually it’s the last day of class so everybody comes down, they come on out to Ponquogue Beach, and it’s just like the kickoff to summer,” Strecker said. “So we’re very excited this year to be hosting it in person. It might be on a smaller scale a little bit, but regardless, we are very excited to be offering this event again for the bands and for the public in general.”

En Fuego during practice in East Quogue on June 5. Dana Shaw photo.

Tickets for the Battle of the Bands must be purchased on the youth bureau website. Following CDC and New York State guidelines, the organizers are encouraging mask-wearing for those that are not vaccinated and leaving it to the personal choice of the vaccinated. The event will also be livestreamed via the youth bureau’s Facebook page.

Regardless of how the audience watches them, the bands are itching to perform.

En Fuego featuring Dan Stark (drums), Luke Hefter (guitar), Jack Oats (guitar), Nellie Nicolova (keys/vocals) and Hunter Montgomery (bass/vocals) formed at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center’s Rock Band 101 program, with Oats joining when the group attended the program for a second time. The bandmates had mostly known each other previously — Stark, Oats and Montgomery all go to Westhampton Beach High School, and Montgomery and Hefter had been family friends — but their current project has allowed them to grow as musicians and play live gigs. The band’s name comes from the Spanish translation of a classic Van Halen song. Eddie Van Halen died on October 6, 2020, right as En Fuego was having one of its first rehearsals.

“I had been listening to the song ‘On Fire,’ from Van Halen’s first album,” Stark said. “I thought ‘Hey, that would be a cool name.’ Then I thought it’d be even cooler if it was En Fuego, in Spanish.”

The En Fuego bandmates cited Green Day, Pearl Jam, Steely Dan and the Grateful Dead as influences, and characterized their sound as alternative rock, but emphasized they pretty much play anything they like.

“We try to keep a cheesy ’80s pop rock song in there,” Montgomery said. “The first time we played at the PAC [Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center] we did ‘Just What I Needed’ by The Cars and now we have ‘Working for the Weekend’ by Loverboy, just to keep a good crowd-pleaser in there.”

Although for the moment their set is all covers, the band has been writing original songs and hopes to put out an album next year. For Hefter, Oats and Nicolova, this is their first time playing in a rock group.

“It’s my first experience in a band,” Hefter said. “I’m a lot younger than them, I’m in seventh grade this year and they’re all in high school. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve looked at it as a way to really learn from them, how long they’ve been playing and how good they are. And I’ve definitely improved playing with them.”

On the other hand, Stark is a veteran of the Battle of the Bands, having played two years ago with his band The Water Boys, and Montgomery’s been playing music since he was in third grade. Regardless of their levels of experience, the band is confident for the upcoming performance.

“We’ve been working for a pretty decent amount of time now, and we have the songs that we want to,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got our stuff down, we’re just fine-tuning all the songs and stuff. From this point on, I think we all have a pretty good idea of how we’re going to do, and we hope to win it.”

In true En Fuego-fashion, the band seemed very pumped for the show.

“We bring the heat,” Stark said. “We’re there for a good jam. You know, if we win, that’s good. If not, it’ll still be a great night with great music.”

En Fuego’s competition Flooded Harbour — consisting of Piergiorgio “Pier” Pirroni (lead guitar), Michael “Mike” Forseth (drums) and Bradley “Aren” Capone (rhythm guitar), all of whom attend Westhampton Beach High School, and Lexington “Ace” Carrera (bass) of Eastport-South Manor High School — has never played a live show all together. Truly a “garage band,” the group usually practices in Forseth’s.

“It’s crazy. I mean, we’ve been playing for two years and all of a sudden we’re playing live shows,” Forseth said. “It’s gonna be a whole different experience from just playing in our garage and our neighbors complimenting us, but I think it’s going to be really cool.”

Forseth and Capone started playing together in 2019 and added Pirroni to the project a few months later. Ace just joined a few months ago. The band members describe themselves as very ’90s-influenced, with their Battle of the Bands setlist drawing from Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins, among others. Their band name comes from a hangout spot.

“I remember they were talking about a little harbor they kept on meeting up at,” Carrera explained. “And I said, ‘Okay, since your favorite harbor that you guys always chill at floods, [let’s] call ourselves Flooded Harbour.’ They didn’t like it at first, but it stuck.”

And the British spelling of harbor, with the addition of the u?

“The British always have it fancier, so we always root for them,” Pirroni said.

The bandmates noted that the pandemic had made it quite difficult for them to get together and practice. But they still managed to work out some rehearsal time.

“I would tend to sneak into Michael’s house and have a little jam session with them every so often, but it was a big deal for us to overcome,” Pirroni said.

Anyone who’s been in a band knows that it involves a whole lot more than just playing music. From improving teamwork and communication skills to building relationships, the group dynamic of a band can foster growth.

“The biggest thing that I got out of playing with these guys is that they’re really close friends of mine, they’re kind of like my brothers at this point,” Forseth said. “And if it wasn’t for Brad picking up that first guitar and that little amp, I probably wouldn’t pick up a drum stick ever again, so that’s something that I really am grateful for.”

Strecker echoed Forseth’s sentiment, and noted that the competitive nature of the Battle is not really the primary focus.

“Even though this is a competition, it’s just an opportunity for kids to play music, and that’s the most important thing about this whole Battle of the Bands,” Strecker said. “Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of friendships created because of this program, I’ve seen great teamwork, a lot of good sportsmanship. It’s a great way to get out there and play.

“A lot of the bands have told me in the past that it’s really not about winning the prizes, it’s just about having that experience of performing in front of a large audience with a professional-grade sound system and having that energy from the crowd and the audience the night of the event,” he added.

The 18th Battle of the Bands will take place Friday, June 11, with a rain date of Friday, June 18, at Ponquogue Beach, 280 Dune Road, in Hampton Bays. Doors open at 7 p.m. and performances last from 8 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $10 and must be purchased online at southamptontownny.gov/youthbureau no later than Thursday, June 10. The event will also be livestreamed on the Southampton Youth Bureau’s Facebook page.

Looking for something to listen to? Check out this Spotify playlist compiled by the Express News Group’s summer intern Sophie Griffin.

New Summer Music ’21 compiled by Sophie Griffin

Song/Artist

High In The Grass – Sleater-Kinney

Worry With You – Sleater-Kinney

The Making of the Sun – St. Vincent

Daddy’s Home – St. Vincent

Somebody Like Me – St. Vincent

brutal – Olivia Rodrigo

drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

déjà vu – Olivia Redrigo

good 4 u – Olivia Rodrigo

Montero (Call Me By Your Name) – Lil Nas X

Sun Goes Down – Lil Nas X

Cheers – Faye Webster

Be Sweet – Japanese Breakfast

Savage Good Boy – Japanese Breakfast

Stop Making This Hurt – Bleachers

Seeing Green – Nicki Minaj, Drake, Lil Wayne

Itty Bitty Piggy – Nicki Minaj

Worth it for the Feeling – Rebecca Black

Girlfriend – Rebecca Black

Space Ghost Coast to Coast – Glass Animals, Bree Runway

Army of Me – Julia Jacklin, RVG

Telepatia – Kali Uchis

Wide Open Spaces – Soccer Mommy

All My Favorite Songs – Weezer, AJR

In There – Liz Phair

Flor – Gabriel Garzón-Montano

More Than This – Angel Olsen

Save Some – D’Sound, Macy Gray

Like I Used To – Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen

Open Eyes – Duendita

Control – Mannequin Pussy

Photo ID – Remi Wolf, Dominic Fike

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