By April Walsh
Beneath a small white tent in the middle of the open amphitheater singer Damon Atkins pauses between songs to ask the audience, “Does it get any better than this?” The crowd cheers in response. He laughs, points up at the gray sky and says, “I know we’re going to make it because we have the best fans. Thanks for being here.”
Atkins is a part of NF52, the winning band of the fourth annual Rock this Stage! competition last Saturday in downtown Winston-Salem. The dedicated fans stood in the stands with umbrellas and rain jackets ready to listen despite the overcast weather.
All four band members graduated from Surry Central High School in May and hope to stay together to play their music next year according to the band’s website. They consider their sound as classic and new rock. They perform covers and some of their own original music.
Rock this Stage! is a part of Rock the Block, the city’s largest music festival. The event started in 2002 as a Friday evening concert downtown. At the time the goal was to attract business to the recently refurbished Fourth Street. Over time the festival gained so much popularity that it was transformed into a day-long event. Rock this Stage! was added to the program a few years ago to attract more young people to the festival.
Rock the Block festivities started Friday evening with a 5k starting in Runner’s Village on the Civic Plaza lawn. All proceeds from the registration fee and donations from local businesses went to the United Way of Forsyth County. Ed McNeal, event coordinator, learned yesterday that the run raised $17,000 for the organization, he said.
On Saturday the festival featured three stages in the downtown area. Rock this Stage! drew the largest crowd in Winston Square Park. Corpening Plaza was named “The International Village” featuring diverse music and entertainment. Local Zumba and Taekwondo instructors taught classes in the plaza and live bands played reggae, indie soul and Latin music throughout the day.
Civic Plaza was the designated “All American Stage.” McNeal said the team was more creative with scheduling the All American Stage this year.
“We tried to incorporate as many music genres as possible. The All-American Stage wasn’t just country and rock like in the past. This year that stage had rock, country and R&B bands perform.”
McNeal said that it is difficult to get a count of how many people attended Rock the Block in previous years. There is no entrance fee or registration station.
“My team was hoping to see somewhere between six to eight thousand people come out but the weather was awful. I don’t think any more than two thousand people were there on Saturday.”
Susan Spainhour, in the marketing and communications department for Rock the Block said she thought that other festivals in Winston Salem on Saturday would draw more attendees. These daylong events were spread throughout the city with the Apple Festival in Old Salem, the European Car Festival in Reynolda Village, the Air Show at the Smith Reynolds Airport and the Rock the Block festival downtown.
Devoted fans still made their way to Rock this Stage! to hear their favorite bands play. Nine bands participated in Rock this Stage! hoping to win the grand prize of $500. Winston-Salem teens filled the park cheering for their classmates and favorite bands from 11am until 7pm, when the winning group was announced.
At 5pm the three finalists took the stage. Each band was allotted a fifteen-minute time slot to wow the audience one last time. The three bands: Without a Hobby, The Fall of Goliath and NF52 played on in the rain.
Jeffrey Dean Foster, acclaimed local musician, and Jill Martin Byers, event director for downtown, judged the bands based on stage presentation, band synchronization, song quality, clarity, enthusiasm and attitude. The audience also had a say. They were able text in the name of their favorite band to cast a vote.
Without a Hobby is named for former band member Matt Hobby. Hobby passed away two years ago. The band was once Green Label Experience but changed its name to honor Hobby. All current members of Without a Hobby attend West Forsyth High school.
The Fall of Goliath performed second in the final round. Band members Nick Taylor, AJ Taylor, David Cook and Caleb Hogue met at a Bible study group and started their band in 2010.
NF52 performed at Rock this Stage! last year as well. They opened their set with a cover of the Black Stone Cherry original song, “Blame it on the Boom Boom” and then played their own music. The band members Halee Coe, Cameron Tolley, Devin Hanks and Damon Atkins took the stage with high energy and passion that generated the loudest response from the audience. They have upcoming performances at JB’s Nite Life in Mount Airy, North Carolina tomorrow and Saturday.
McNeal says the city is already hard at work to improve Rock the Block as a whole.
“We already planning Rock the Block for next year. I like to start early when what worked well and what didn’t is still fresh in my mind. Rock this Stage! is huge for us. We need to find a way to attract large audiences to the other stages and find out how we can make things better if there is inclement weather again.”
Click on the links below to see performances from the finalists:
Fall of Goliath
Without a Hobby