There are plenty of familiar names among the finalists for this year’s Yakima AppleJam Battle of the Bands, the entertainment centerpiece of the annual Yakima Fourth of July celebration at State Fair Park.
Last year’s student-stage winner, Arissa Connel, is back, even though the student stage is not (she’s competing in the solo category, open to all ages). And so is JayJay Garza, runner-up in the solo category in the 2017 AppleJam. Another runner-up, Whitley Snider (2018 student stage), is back but this time in the band category, where she’ll sing with her father, Eric Snider.
But previous success at AppleJam isn’t necessarily a ticket to this year’s prizes. The competition is stiff in both the solo and band categories. In the latter, the favorites may be The Finger Guns, a professional punk-leaning outfit out of Seattle. Or maybe it’s Bad Habit, the reigning deans of Yakima punk rock, and their reggae-slanted sound. (Two members of that band, Erik Smestad and Dan Koenig, are also solo finalists.)
The band category is rounded out by Eric & Whitley (Snider) and two new acts, Daypop and Sweet Mary Sunshine. Based on the limited recordings available, the former is one of those indie-pop bands that matches catchy hooks with earnest, almost-plaintive vocals. It works. The latter is a group of straight-up pros who’ve come together to play classic rock covers.
Among the soloists, it’s all teenage girls and members of Bad Habit (Connel, 13; Abby Brown, 15; and Garza, 16; plus Smestad and Koenig). I’ve listened to all of them, and I’m not even going to try to handicap this race. I could see any of them pulling off a stellar performance and stealing the crown. It may come down to a matter of the judges’ tastes.
Speaking of judges, this year’s are Brad Sinsel, Bart Roderick, Rondi Marsh and Adam Green. Sinsel is the singer of revered 1980s hard-rock band TKO. Roderick is a local musician and teacher with a mile-long list of recording credits. Marsh is a local jazz singer who has delighted Northwest audiences for years and years. Green is a Seattle music-scene vet with roots in the Yakima Valley. In addition to performing, he was the host of “The Young and the Restless,” a popular show on Seattle’s 107.7 FM The End.
Whoever they pick as the winner in each category will get a $500 prize, and an additional $500 will go to the “best of show,” regardless of category. Each act gets 30 minutes of stage time, with bands and solo acts alternating slots on the bill, which begins at 4 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m., after which last year’s all-ages third-place finisher, Leviticuss, will perform a special half-hour set.
AppleJam is produced by the Yakima Herald-Republic, and sponsored by the YH-R and the Yakima Steak Co.
Post-award fireworks are presented by Tire Centers Inc. and Yakima Federal Savings.
■ Erik SmestadAge: 35
Description of music: “Acoustic reggae and punk with a dash of Western mixed in.”
Top musical influences: Sublime, NOFX, Toots and the Maytals, Skankin’ Pickle and Blaze Foley
■ KoenigAge: Undisclosed
Description of music: “It’s always difficult for me to describe what I think I sound like. I play a lot of different styles, from blues to bluegrass, punk rock, reggae, ska and even country. One thing I try to avoid, though, is being loud. You can be aggressive and have high energy without deafening your audience. At the very least I’d say I’m melodic, a little gritty and definitely something you can dance to.”
Top musical influences: Bad Religion, At the Drive-In, Sublime, Hank Williams III, The Misfits, The Supersuckers, Stevie Ray Vaughan
■ Arissa ConnelAge: 13
Description of music: “My music comes from the heart. I sing many ballads, but I am trying to branch out to more genres and get a feel of them.”
Top musical influences: Taylor Swift, Adele
■ Abby BrownAge: 15
Description of music: “I am an all-genre, family-friendly singer-songwriter-performer.”
Top musical influences: “As far as my musical influences go, I am my own role model! I have always loved singing and I have always felt music flow through my veins! I am truly deeply influenced by my own heart and soul.”
■ JayJay GarzaAge: 16
Description of music: “My music varies widely but I’d say sticks toward an indie feel.”
Top musical influences: Hozier, Adele, Billie Eilish
■ Bad HabitBand members: Erik Smestad, Dan Koenig, Jason Alvarado, Remington Anderson
Years together: 14
Description of music: Melodic punk-rock reggae
Top musical influences: “Everything from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and The Temptations to Toots and the Maytals, NOFX, Dead Kennedys and Bad Religion, with a dash of rebel country like Hank Williams III thrown in. Oh yeah, and early thrash metal bands, too!”
■ The Finger GunsBand members: Steve Bergstrom (guitar, vocals), Eric Chapman (drums), Arthur Hagman (bass, backup vocals)
Years together: Nine
Description of music: “Unpretentious high-energy rock ‘n’ roll”
Top musical influences: Cheap Trick, Social Distortion, Descendents, Bouncing Souls
■ Eric & WhitleyBand members: Whitley and Eric Snider (daughter and father)
Years together: Since Whitley was born
Description of music: Pop music
Top musical influences: Panic! At the Disco, John Mayer, Ariana Grande, Charlie Puth
■ DaypopBand members: Colton Jones, Israel McDonald, Kwinton Wyckoff, Nate Eaton
Years together: Four or five months
Description of music: Indie rock, pop
Top musical influences: Mac Demarco, Her’s, Joy Again
■ Sweet Mary SunshineBand members: Eddie Morrow (bass), Nate Arevalo (guitar, vocals), Fe Ibarra (drums), Teresa Ibarra (vocals)
Years together: Less than one
Description of music: “Although we have all done other separate projects that ranged from metal to indie and pop, we now have gotten together to form an eclectic group that covers music by the legends we grew up loving. However, our passion is writing original music that is unapologetic, raw and grungy. We speak the truth about the world around us and suggest an alternative point of view. Our name is Sweet Mary Sunshine, but our music is anything but sunny.”
Top musical influences: Rudy Sarzo, Cliff Burton, Neil Young, Metallica, John Bonham, Animal from “The Muppet Show,” Linda Ronstadt, Nirvana