Students piled into the Global Learning Center at Oral Roberts University on Thursday, Feb. 15, for the annual Battle of the Bands (BOTB) competition. The room was toasty with eagerness as this year’s BOTB promised a show to remember, and did not disappoint.
The Student Association created a fun-filled night for students and performers alike. Students huddled around the stage for performances by ORU’s many talented bands. Saints by Summer opened the night, followed by Eleven:59, LYLA, Cherry Wave and closed with toast. The latter satisfied the audience’s hunger for an award winning performance. Literally. And yes, their name is all lowercase.
Each band brought a unique sound and drive to win, creating an exciting night for ORU students. But toast won the title, capturing the audience’s heart with their song selections and passion for music.
“The way we ran our set and wanted to include people, we wanted to be genuine,” said Mark Zumpano, junior psychology major and lead vocalist for toast. “We didn’t want to act like we were just there to be serious and perform, we wanted to just have fun. I felt the crowd was really influential to our energy and kind of the way we were running it, and by the end, we were just singing together.”
Toast is comprised of students who simply enjoy playing together. Their band was formed almost seamlessly as friends and friends of friends joined, all looking for a way to express their love for music with other like-minded musicians.
“We’re all great friends, and we had a lot of fun practicing together and setting up,” said Zumpano. “We really invested a lot of time into it and I can see we were pretty successful.”
Along with Zumpano, the band includes students Jacob Brallier, Kyle Ross, Alan Kline, Gabe Phillips, Madelyn Hunt, Haley Gibson, Sam Bowling and Tori Sullivan, all playing various instruments like the dobro, ukulele and trumpet.
“When I came to ORU, I really wanted to play music, but didn’t know what to expect, or if I’d meet anybody who’d want to play with me,” Brallier said. He was the dobro player who also played guitar and other instruments.
After finding one another and developing their sound, which they describe as folk with a hint of bluegrass, the band decided to try out for BOTB and made it into the show. Their song selection process for the performance took longer than expected, but they finally found songs they all enjoyed performing.
“It was kind of tedious but I think we hit the nail on the head with our selection,” Zumpano said. “For something like Battle of the Bands, we kind of wanted to do songs people would know but also do songs that we like.”
The band first performed a mash-up of I’ll Fly Away, which is an old hymn, and Bitter Water by The Oh Hellos. Next, they covered Dog Days Are Over by Florence and The Machine and played an original by Zumpano, called Wanderer. Finally, they ended the night with Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond and the entire crowd joined in, shouting each “bum, bum, bum” and “so good, so good, so good” along with Zumpano.
“As soon as we decided to do it, I was like, yes, this is going to be so fun,” Zumpano said. “Singing it was like a party; you can only take yourself so seriously when singing a song like that. You kind of just have to let the crowd in and have a ball with it. That’s how we wanted to end the show, having fun, and that’s why we picked ‘Sweet Caroline.’”
It could be argued that the song won the evening, not only for the audience but also for toast performers like Brallier.
“I was just up there and I was playing guitar, but I looked around at Mark killing it up there, singing, and he just stepped out of himself and performed that song; everyone did,” Brallier said. “And the audience singing along, all the words, and I kind of just smiled and thought, this is cool.”
Overall, though toast won, each band contributed to the excitement of the evening. Though toast formed out of friendship, some of the band members hope to go on to more serious musical pursuits.
“I think there’s a lot of us that really want an outlet for our music and I think there’s a good possibility that we will stay together in some form or another and play out,” said Brallier.
ORU gives a toast to toast, and to the rest of the BOTB performers, for an unforgettable night and performances that were so good, (so good, so good.)