Live Oak performs at the Relay for Life Battle of the Bands at LiveWire Athens in Athens, Georgia on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (Photo/Jason Born)

If there is anything Sarah Henning, the executive director of Relay for Life at the University of Georgia, wants people to know about the organization, it’s that Relay doesn’t exist solely for fundraising — it creates a community.

“The main thing for Relay is that our organization is not a fundraising organization,” Henning said. “We do fundraise almost a quarter-million dollars every year, which is incredible, but our main goal is to create a community where people can come and celebrate those in their lives they’ve lost to cancer and those who are continuing to fight.”

The Battle of the Bands event from 6–9 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 16 at Live Wire Athens was no exception. The community atmosphere was omnipresent among the audience members who gathered to see six bands perform 20-minute sets and compete for the grand prize of a $75 gift card to Clarke’s Standard.

Both Live Wire and Clarke’s were very supportive of Relay for Life and this event. Live Wire fit Relay for Life’s desire to find an exclusively-music venue, and Clarke’s hosted the event’s after-party, where they offered attendees half-price drinks.

“We were looking for something that was solely a music venue just to play up this idea that we were reaching into another aspect of the Athens community,” Henning said. “Live Wire was the perfect fit. They have been great to work with, and they were really excited to work with a nonprofit for this kind of event.”

While an entity in and of itself, Battle of the Bands served as the theme reveal for Relay’s big event, which will take April 12 from 6 p.m.– 6 a.m. Revealed in a video presentation at the end of the event, the theme is “Take Cancer By the Horns.”

“This is the first year we’ve done a Battle of the Bands, but it’s part of our theme reveal which has happened for a couple of years now,” Henning said. “This is the first time we’ve incorporated it that way.”

The Bands

Live Oak was the first of the six bands to take the stage for competition, bringing their jam-band rock vibes with them. Next up was the harder rock feel of Everyday Dogs, followed by Boston natives Drew and the Boys.

Family Recipe played fourth in the lineup with a completely instrumental set that incorporated a lot of saxophone. Next, RuHaa! provided the sole female-fronted rock of the battle, with Whiskey N Dicksey closing the competition out with feel-good covers. Then after the competitive portion of the evening, singer-songwriter Megan Moroney took to the stage to perform before the results were revealed.

Emily Olson, the lead singer of RuHaa! — by the way, they got their name from meeting each other while living in Russell Hall — said she loves playing in battles like this for the friendly competition and fellowship.

“We’ve done a couple of Battle of the Bands in the past, and it’s just so much fun,” Olson said. “There’s such a sense of community and friendliness. You get to meet new people, and it’s a healthy competition.”

In fact, the camaraderie and experience superseded her desire to win.

“We don’t really care if we win,” Olson said. “We’re just in it to enjoy the performance, the venue and everything else and especially since it’s going to a good cause.”

For RuHaa!’s guitarist Cristian Gutierrez, being active in the Athens music community inspired his desire to participate in Battle of the Bands.

“We just love hearing other local music,” Gutierrez said. “We love seeing people and meeting them personally.”

The Battle

Hosted by UGA football players D’Andre Swift and J.R. Reed, the battle consisted of each band’s set being given a score out of 30 points by a panel of three judges. The judges were Nicole Adamovich, the Panhellenic president, Caitlin Santos, a UGA student majoring in music composition and Ashley Walls, an up-and-coming country artist.

Bands were not only evaluated by the judges but the audience as well. People had the option to donate money into bins corresponding to the band they wanted to support, with one dollar being equivalent to one point.

“I think that as a community, we wanted our people to have input over who their favorite band was,” Henning said. “Vote for your people’s choice and have some influence on which band wins the prizes.”

Matilde Fabris, a senior marketing and international business major from Atlanta, did enjoy having a say in who took home first place.Her favorite band was Whiskey N Dicksey, and they did, in fact, end up winning the Battle. Their crowd-pleasing covers of songs like Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks” and iconic UGA football anthem “Baba O’Riley” won over the audience as well as the judges.

Drew and the Boys claimed second place, with Family Recipe coming in third.

Having Fun and Fighting Cancer

Cancer leaves little room for happiness in the ferocious pain it causes, but Battle of the Bands sought to bring some joy to the subject.

“The main thing I’m really excited about is a community of people [coming] together who are all dedicated towards fighting cancer in fun and exciting ways,” Henning said. “[We] get to be together for a night and just hang out and enjoy some good music, enjoy each other’s company and have a good night all around.”

When fun can’t overcome the pain, Relay for Life’s central goal for events like Battle of the Bands is to remind people they aren’t alone.

“We think it’s important to have a community on campus where people can come and say, ‘I have a mom or a dad who has cancer,’ or, ‘My brother or sister has cancer,’ and ‘There are thousands of students just like me and I can talk to someone and there’s someone there for me when I need it,’” Henning said. “It really creates that community atmosphere when we do events like this.”

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