“We’re one of the most accomplished bands in Ventura, and we can’t even win a battle of the bands.” So says Chris Bykowski of I Was a Lover, Delorean Was a Dealer, which recently lost Sans Souci’s Battle of the Bands and was eliminated in the first round of Rookees’ battle last year.

Though his band made it to the Sans Souci finals, Bykowski has vowed never to participate in another battle of the bands, which he affectionately refers to as “battle of the friends.”

The winning band, We Govern We, a fairly recent Ventura transplant (besides two members who live in Ventura), is set to compete in yet another battle of the bands next Wednesday at Rookees, where they will match chops with Blues Bullet and the Snobs from Santa Barbara. We Govern We bassist Adrian (AJ) Burke admits that any formal attempt to pit musicians against one another has the potential to cause conflict rather than camaraderie in the music scene, but he says participants need to take it with a grain of salt. “The bands shouldn’t really battle,” he says. “They’re all good in their own way. It’s [important] to have a good attitude and support all the bands.”

Once upon a time, most musicians would have laughed at the prospect of  entering a battle of the bands competition — some still do —  but, that attitude is changing as a mutating music industry is forcing musicians to self-promote more than ever.  Burke sees these “battles” as a tool.

“It’s an opportunity to get out there and let people hear us and refine our stage show. I wouldn’t be doing it normally unless we really needed to get noticed.”

There may still be a few bands and promoters who scoff at battles of the bands, but most are beginning to agree it’s a win-win. Burke, who’s played for a number of local bands over the years, including Enok, Hubcap Halo and Colyzion, said turnout for the Sans Souci battle was impressive — especially for a Wednesday night and given the fact that Rookees’ battle was the same night with 200 in attendance. “It’s good publicity for the venue,” he says. “It was very crowded up until 1 a.m.”

Rock City Studios in Camarillo, one of the only all-ages venues in the county booking consistently good shows, recently jumped on the bandwagon with its own battle. Promoter Cassie Purtlebaugh said the venue was, like everyone else, feeling the economic pinch, and they thought a battle would be a good way to stir up business while boosting the music scene.

As fun and lucrative as a battle of the bands can be, the spirit of competition can quickly turn to bloodlust when it’s not handled professionally. While both Rookees and Rock City go to great lengths to establish rules and judging criteria, participants in Sans Souci’s battle were loath to find any rhyme or reason to the judging process. Burke said he couldn’t really tell who was judging or what the criteria were, and at the end of the night there was no announcement as to the winner. According to Burke and Bykowski, the winner was announced via text message the following morning.

“It was some scandalous shit,” said Bykowski,” who felt the absence of qualified judges delegitimized the competition. “We almost thought about never playing Ventura County again,” he said. “If you’re gonna have judges, have real judges. You should be judging originality and musicianship. Everybody that’s seen us said we should have won.” (At press time, no one from Sans Souci was able or available to comment).

Rookees’ entertainment director Stacy Mills said that last year’s battle wasn’t without controversy despite his and his partner’s best attempt to avoid it. “Some of [the bands] went a little overboard regarding sportsmanship. They didn’t think the counting was on the up and up,” he said. That’s why he’s enlisted the Derby Darlings to oversee vote counting for the current battle, with one member from each band present for accountability.

While we may never again see I Was a Lover, Delorean Was a Dealer at a Ventura County battle of the bands, there is no shortage of bands eager to compete for cash, prizes and publicity. Last year’s Rookees’ battle winners Rey Fresco, have a highly anticipated record in the works and recently sold out the Ventura Theater. It’s hard to imagine the battle win didn’t factor into their success.   

The fourth round of Rookees’ Battle of the Bands is Wednesday, May 13, at 9 p.m. 419 E. Main St., Ventura. 648-6862, www.myspace.com/rookeesventura.

michel@vcreporter.com