2016 Rock Hunt kicked off this weekend with the first two rounds of Semifinals. On night one Friday, February 26, bands showcased their sets in front of our judges at the Newport Blues Cafe. In between songs like the Cuban shuffle and while Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé were displayed silently on the big screen, No Plateau, Mona Mele, and Oliver Penn and the Crystal Shivers fought for their chance to compete for a spot in the Rock Hunt finals.

05 - Iwnzik2No Plateau took the stage first at 9:00 p.m. Part of the band’s charm is that it’s made up of a bunch of normal, fun-loving guys with man buns. They are a brilliant splash of local color. The band has a great time while on the stage and the audience reciprocates. They began their set with an explanation of their name: “We are No Plateau — like a mountain that has flat parts. We don’t have any flat parts.” Throughout the set there are moments, when lead singer Sean Murphy’s demonstrates his talent and vocal range, that erase any doubt why No Plateau made it to the semifinals. The band transitions between their songs flawlessly, and their songs exhibit tempo and key changes that reflect great skill. The strength of the band is definitely the instrumentals as the set featured some great guitar riffs. They ended the set feeling proud of what they accomplished, saying later that they felt good about it and “We messed up less than usual.” The band also made a point to thank WBRU for the opportunity.

01 - 091xtDhNext up was Mona Mele, a band comprised of local high school seniors and a sophomore. These guys are extremely charismatic and brimming with talent. Their set featured a mix of the past and the present. They transported the us to the 60s with their song “Board Shorts” which also happened to be the third song they ever wrote. Their lead smiled with what could be interpreted as either confidence or mere enjoyment and appreciation, but either way it was infection. Seeing them clearly enjoying the experience, made us happy to be sharing in the moment as well. “This song is called ‘Moon’ and it’s about going crazy.” Though this band is relatively young, they sing about topics that would suggest they have experienced the intricacies of life, and their performance reflects a sense of a naive worldliness which makes their music all the more attractive. The crowd responded accordingly. After the performance, when asked for comments, they said, “It was the greatest show of our life.”

12 - UrArAnqThe crowd was jittery with excitement when the final band of the night Oliver Penn and The Crystal Shivers took the stage. The band draws inspiration and is influenced by their Texas roots. Oliver Penn keeps his eyes closed and rarely looks up from behind his wide-brimmed hat during the performances: he focuses on the music. If alternative rock cowboys exist: Oliver Penn is one of them. Friday, February 26, 2016 marked the triumphant return of the meaningful guitar solo to Rock Hunt, as Penn and the two bands before him released an energy from their instruments that allowed a piece of their souls to touch the audience. Penn’s song “Runaway” featured a melody that you could move to while his other songs exhibited a bluesy vibe.

Oliver Penn emerged victorious at the end of the night and secured his spot at the March 19th finals at the Met.

Click Here for the Dates and Times for the remainder of the Semifinal dates!

Read On: Rock Hunt Semifinals Night 2.

Photos Courtesy of WBRU Media Interns Gray Brakke and Rainey Zimmermann.

2016 Rock Hunt Semifinals at Newport Blues Cafe 2/26