In the Gutter wins at battle

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"If you're going to mosh, mosh responsibly," pleaded Matthew Craig, industrial arts teacher at Steamboat Springs High School and emcee for Friday night's High School Battle of the Bands in the Steamboat Grand Resort Ballroom. "We don't want anybody smooshed."

Mohawks, mosh pits and all-girl bands reigned at the Battle of the Bands -- well, almost all girl. The usually all-girl band from Craig In the Gutter -- who say their sound is "alternative/punk, more alternative" -- won the battle by 1.5 points. Jenna Stiefel, Camillia Bird and Jojo La did get some help from bass player Peter Stammler, allowing Bird to belt out the band's first original song uninhibited by her guitar.

More than 350 fans turned out to hear Abstract Expression, Genghis Khan, Unitones, Random Acts of Kindness, In the Gutter, Always and Stonewall rock their hearts out. The ballroom was ringed by parents, with plenty of room for a lively mosh pit at the center. The seven high school bands from Craig and Steamboat Springs performed on an elevated stage with an ample speaker system and psychedelic laser show on a large screen behind them.

"This is what's been going on in my living room. I've been grilling them burgers every night," D.J. Chotvacs, Abstract Expression band member Alex Chotvacs' mom, said at the end of the band's three-song set. Between bands, D.J. proudly pointed out three generations of Chotvacs scattered throughout the crowd who had come to cheer for Alex.

"We just had to come see what they were up to," Chris Gotchey said. Gotchey came with Bruce Stover, who said he had recorded many of the evening's bands in his home studio.

Sabrina Boughan came to cheer for Random Acts of Kindness, her brother James Boughan's band, because she's been listening to them practice their original songs at her house for months. She said she's their No. 1 groupie but admitted she really liked In the Gutter, too.

"I'm blown away. I'm so stoked," said Brooke Lachman, teen programs coordinator for the city of Steamboat Spring and lead organizer of the event. She said it was an overwhelming turnout, adding that there were 60 volunteers in the ballroom by 5 p.m. to help set up for the 9 p.m. show. "It makes me so happy, I could cry," Lachman said with a grin on her face as she looked over the crowd.

Winning contestant In the Gutter has been practicing for five months, said Stiefel, the band's drummer and backup singer. Stiefel said they have been rehearsing in her bedroom, with little complaint from her parents.

"It's pretty cool of them to help support our music," Stiefel said of her parents. "I think they like the songs even though they have to hear the same ones over and over again."

After hearing they'd won, there was a throng of girlish screams from In the Gutter and their fans. Stiefel declared, "I'm in awe. I'm in shock." In the Gutter bandmate La said they "just did it for the fun of it" and "thought we were beat by a mile" by Stonewall or Always.

Throughout the night, emcee Craig continued to pursue "socially responsible moshing." His efforts appeared effective as more than one moshing male attendee was spotted politely apologizing to the "ma'am" and "sir" who occasionally got gently bumped even though they were standing outside the impromptu "pit."

"It put a smile on my face to see kids thrashing each other that hard," said Alex King of the all-senior punk group Genghis Khan after his band inspired the first mosh pit of the night. King sported a new hairdo for the event. "Everybody has to have a mohawk at least once," he said.

More than one band used rock-star antics to pump up the crowd. Always drummer Nate Lotz tossed his drum sticks into the audience after an energetic set that got the crowd jumping. The band's set earned Lotz chants of "Nate, Nate, Nate" at the end. And Unitones singer Luke Gibbon went airborne with a stage dive into the twirling mosh pit in the midst of his band's set.

A panel of judges composed of resident music aficionados ranked the bands based on originality, appearance, musicianship, sound and lyrics. Bands vyed for a grand prize that includes a one-night gig at Mahogany Ridge and airtime for the band's songs on radio stations KFMU and KIDN.

Battle of the Bands was part of the teen program's mission to provide safe, affordable recreational events for teenagers that are free of alcohol and drugs. The sober event was funded partially by a state alcohol and drug prevention grant. Event sponsors included the Steamboat Springs Teen Program, KIDN/KFMU, Impact Hospitality Services, The Local and Steamboat Pilot & Today.

"They were all great," said judge Kurt Wipperfurth of Big Idiot Productions, a local recording company. Wipperfurth said he admired the high level of talent for such a small community and thought the experience of getting up on stage was the key to Friday night's event.

"You just had to put yourself in that realm," said judge Tim Cunningham of the Brewglass Boys.

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