Boomtown takes home honors at Battle of the Bands

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Boomtown took home first place at this year’s Battle of the Bands competition.

By Jon Johnson

GRAHAM COUNTY – The 15th annual Nickel Picnic and Battle of the Bands faced adversity of missing groups, early heat, and mid-day rain, but through it all the competitors supported each other and the staff at Double R Communications kept the show running to the delight of the hundreds of music fans.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: From left, Nathan Salas and David Kumlien of Lab Audio energize the crowd with drummer Jay Brimhall in the rear.

On Saturday, the venue at the Graham County Fairgrounds saw more than eight hours of music over the course of one day.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Jim Akers of Boomtown also took home individual honors for best guitarist.

Judges Bill Perry, Chris Murphy, and Adam Crohn somehow made their decision, and this year, local group Boomtown took home first-place honors and the $1,500 prize money after a soulful set that included a spot-on cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.” The band includes singer and guitarist Andy Davis, Jim Akers on lead guitar, James Craig on bass, and Dave Mendoza keeping them all together on the drums.

“It’s exciting,” Davis said. “I don’t know what to say. These guys I play with are all awesome. We all help each other and make each other what we are.

Boomtown has only been a group for a little over a year and they added Akers – who took home an individual honor for the best guitarist as well – about three or four months ago. 

It was an eclectic gathering of groups throughout the day with a variety of music, including the Three Piece Scotts, who wore kilts and played a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Hey You”, the crowd-pleasing Lucky J’s headed by Gila Valley Idol winner Pete McCormick, and the death metal group Celestial Exile.

The crowd, perhaps burnt out by the long day, was somewhat passive when the final two bands were set to play, but that changed the instant Lab Audio hit the stage.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: From left, Reed Richins and Adam Crohn present the best vocalist award to Pete McCormick.

Led equally by lead guitarist Nathan Salas, singer David Kumlien, bass player Nate DeRusha, and drummer Jay Brimhall, Lab Audio brought a presence and force to the stage unseen that day until then.

The unassuming Kumlien could have easily been mistaken for a roadie, but that thought left the moment he started his set, energizing the crowd with the zeal of a frontman of a band on a national tour.

Kumlien’s energy was somehow matched by Salas, who wowed the crowd with his mastery of the electric guitar. Perhaps the greatest injustice of the day was Salas somehow leaving without any individual honors, though Lab Audio did take third overall.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: At one point in Half-Fast’s set, Nathan Salas went off the stage an had some young attendees help him out on bass.

Having the tough job to follow Lab Audio, Half-Fast stumbled a bit at first. However, the group, including Salas doing double duty by playing bass, turned it around by playing some crowd-favorite covers and lead singer Vernon Batty found his groove. The band kept up the crowd involvement created by Lab Audio and closed out the competition on a high note.

After the competition, Pyrosteria – a Def Leppard tribute band from Scottsdale – took the stage after sunset and rocked this way into the night as they took the crowd on a trip back to 1983.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Pyrosteria rocked the stage after the competition.

The crowd was into it, and young and old took to the dance area as the thundering beats pierced to the bone.

Organizer Reed Richins said he planned on keeping the show running and would be back next year.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Lab Audio’s David Kumlien riles up the crowd.

The following are the awards from the show:

Best Overall Band

  1. Boomtown
  2. Lucky J’s
  3. Lab Audio
  4. (Special Judge’s Recognition) Celestial Exile 

Best Vocalist: Pete McCormick

Best Bass Player: Jesse Ray

Best Drummer: Jay Brimhall

Best Guitarist: Jim Akers

Best Specialty Instrument: Jeremy Scott

Click here to see a photo album of the event.