Liberty, and justice for none: Paradise Stadium leaves bands stranded at the Liberty Memorial.

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Liberty, and justice for none: Paradise Stadium leaves bands stranded at the Liberty Memorial.

As reported in this column last week, in the dubious history of musical competitions there's never been a battle of the bands that featured 64 groups. Nor, for that matter, has there been a battle that incorporated sports-tournament-style brackets, a charity angle (money was to be donated to area high schools) and an entrepreneurial aspect (the musicians sold their own tickets). On Saturday, September 29, Paradise Stadium president and Tournament of Rock founder Terry Nelson discovered why. Scorched by low attendance and minuscule concession sales, Nelson pulled the plug on the event before the dawn of its second day. Nelson could not be reached for comment afterward, but his Web site (www.paradisestadium.com), which once hosted elaborate schedules and band links, now contains only a one-sentence apology: "Paradise Stadium regrets to inform you that Tournament of Rock has been canceled." The e-mail address he includes has likely been flooded with messages from anxious and/or angry musicians inquiring about ticket refunds and the status of their $500 entry fees, which they were supposed to recoup, win or lose, after the first round. With Nelson nowhere to be found, rumors of bounced checks and threats of class-action lawsuits abound.

The first 32 groups to clash in this combat-rock format performed in front of crowds that looked to be no larger than a hundred at a time. That's true to battle-of-the-bands tradition because the supporters who attend are often friends and family of the participants instead of die-hard music fans. As a result, staying and checking out the rest of the day's action isn't an attractive option -- when their band's off the stage, it's time to head for home. Nelson might have made projections based on Spirit Fest numbers, particularly that event's 90 percent walk-up sales, but as it turned out, there was no comparison between Spirit Fest, which people see as an all-night destination, and the Tournament, which visitors viewed as a fifteen-minute rest-stop. On paper, it would make sense that rock fans would stay and check out the full lineup, given the similarities among the groups (most played some form of heavy metal) and the ticket price paid ($16-$20.) But unlike, say, OZZfest, Tournament-goers never really decided to make a day of it, despite perfect weather (or maybe because of it -- recreational activities might have seemed more appealing than scouting out unfamiliar acts).

Groups such as Six Percent and Silence conquered their first-round foes, getting as close as anyone would to the mythical $25,000 top prize. "It was one of the greatest experiences we could have with music," raves Silence's Josh Smithey, who attributes the event's failure to a lack of promotion and the narrow musical focus of the bands involved. In the short-lived tourney's biggest upset, Overture overthrew de facto top seed Thrust, setting off a celebration that would last only a few hours -- until news of the cancellation reached the band.

Initially exciting, these victories now stand as bitter reminders of what might have been. "We put a lot of time and effort into selling tickets and practicing, and we got almost nothing out of it," says Kyle Babson of opening-half victors Key. "From the beginning, we were skeptical. My main question was, how was Terry going to make money when he was giving away so much? I guess the answer is that he didn't."

While these title contenders think of what might have been, Sunday's slate of performers, who never even got to take the stage, are even angrier. "We are pissed that we will probably never see the $500 we put in," says Tom from Spleen, who heard about the cancellation Sunday morning as he was loading gear from the group's practice shed. "We used the money we made selling tickets to finish our CD, foolishly expecting to get back the $500."

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