The Battle of the Bands rages at Havana Republic

I used to seek out live music quite a lot. But now I'm old, bitter and broken, and such things are better left to younger men.

However, I recently mustered the last of my flagging virility and checked out the Last Band Standing gig at Havana Republic in downtown Medford.

Havana occupies the Bohemian Club space on West Main Street. It's one of the more charming buildings in the downtown corridor and has a killer sign. I'm glad someone decided to throw a business other than a furniture store or an attorney's office inside it.

I was a little late to the Last Band Standing scene. The bar apparently is hosting a series of band competitions in which four groups play during a night, with the winner determined by a vote at the end of the evening.

The battle has been raging since June 26 and continues until Sept. 11, when a king will be crowned and handed $5,000 in prize money. I assume most of this cash will flow back to the bar in the form of Jager bombs and the Havana's nacho plate.

The nachos are very good, by the way.

I missed the first two bands Wednesday night. I hope someday to check out Machine and 541 Syndicate, but it was not meant to be.

I did grab a pint of 10 Barrel IPA and stalked outside to the outdoor stage in time to catch the last of a burlesque show.

The PDF Girls worked the audience between sets, much to the delight of those who would much rather gaze upon burlesque action than stoned equipment flunkies screwing around with guitar amps for 20 minutes.

The turnout was solid for a Wednesday night. It seems Havana has tapped into a desire left unmet here in Medford. Yes, people have to get up for work on Thursday, but that doesn't mean it's not a good time to go out in the middle of the week.

You'd think it would be a better idea to host a popular Battle of the Bands on the weekend. More people, more drinking, more money, etc., etc. But Havana's strategy here seems to be attracting a more music-conscious crowd rather than the Jager-sloshed bros and honeys who jam downtown on Saturday night like an Abercrombie & Fitch-clad zombie plague.

There was some drinking going on Wednesday, to be sure. But the vibe tacked more mellow than epic Saturday night.

I'm just going to say it right here: The bands I saw weren't really my scene.

Of them, Buckle Rash seems to have the brightest future. They brought a crowd with them, and I assume they won the vote handily at the end of the night.

Buckle Rash hails from Ashland and plays a thumping brand of pub rock tinged with country and blues. If you sped up The Pogues to triple speed, added a drum machine and threw in Johnny Ramone on guitar, you'd have something resembling Buckle Rash.

After kicking off their set with a Johnny Cash cover, Buckle Rash blew through a handful of songs about weed and tweakers before taking a bow.

Midway through their set, the back-up singer dude stripped off his shirt and did jerky Iggy Pop dances across the stage for the rest of the show. I admired his effort.

Battle of the Bands embraces the most endearing aspects of the bar band: boozy energy and the foot-stompy sound. It's about puffing your chest and showing the audience that, by God, you enjoy making music.

In the end, it's about getting people to live music shows. I'm getting the sense from hanging out in Medford this past year that the local folks are hungry for shows.

The other thing Havana has going for it is the outdoor stage. Man, I can't express enough how key this is around these parts. First of all, it's Southern Oregon, which has maybe the best weather in the country, aside from maybe San Diego or Santa Barbara, for much of the year. Getting people outside is the responsible thing for a bar owner to do. And now that the Shenanigans/Pub Ink experiment in outdoor boozing has flamed out, seemingly for good this time, it's up to places like Havana to give us the open sky with our nightlife.

The importance of live music seems to have caught the attention of other places. Howiee's has gone all-in on live music, blowing out a large space with a stage on Main Street. I'd like to see more of this going forward.

Havana's Battle of the Bands starts every Wednesday night at about 8 p.m. I'm not guaranteeing you'll dig each band on the bill, but if you connect with one, that's a victory.

Besides, what the hell else are you going to do on a Wednesday night?

Oh, did I mention it's free?

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.


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