Rock Band Visits the 2011 Take Action Tour

In 1999, Hopeless Records created Sub City Records and the Take Action Tour to help raise funding and awareness for non-profit organizations by helping bands and fans connect over the issues they care about. So far, they've raised almost 2 million dollars for over 50 nonprofit organizations.

When I heard that RBN authoring house RockGamer Studios would be holding an event at the last stop of the 2011 Take Action Tour, I jumped at the chance to help out.

I hopped a bus from Cambridge to Manhattan and showed up with just enough time to grab lunch before heading over to the Best Buy Theater in Times Square. Unloading the car was a bit exciting (parking? what parking?) but we lugged three TVs, amplifiers, mic stands, and of course a full Rock Band kit downstairs. When the doors opened, we were all set up and ready to go.

What does RockGamer have to do with the Take Action Tour? This year's tour included Bayside, Polar Bear Club, Silverstein, and Texas in July, and these bands share something besides a love of helping out charity. All of these bands have songs on the Rock Band Network that were charted by RockGamer.

For the Take Action Tour event, RockGamer had something very special set up. The rules were simple:

  1. Play a song by Bayside ("Sick, Sick, Sick"), Polar Bear Club ("Living Saints"), Silverstein ("Burning Hearts"), or Texas in July ("Magnolia") in Rock Band.
  2. Impress the judges. Joel of the Gurn Killers (an award-winning Rock Band band) was judging players on their performance skills, and I was judging bands on their technical skills.
  3. The band who gave us the best Rock Band performance for each song got to MEET THE BAND.

There were some crazy enthusiastic players! We had a great crowd, and we saw people play ranging from Rock Band experts to people just picking up a plastic guitar for the first time. People got really excited about trying their favorite band's music in a new form. We saw a lot of determined, focused "Rock Band faces" from people concentrating on hitting the notes, but we also saw a lot of people jumping around, pumping their fists at the crowd, and really getting into the music. Special kudos to the guy who ripped his shirt off partway through!

By the end of the contest, my voice was raw from yelling along with the "sick, sick, sick!" Bayside refrains from my spot at the judging table, and we had four excited sets of winners ready to meet the bands. There were a few secret perks, too - for example, the contest winners for Bayside got to hang out on side stage during Polar Bear Club's performance. They walked past later grinning from ear to ear.

Once the contest was over, we settled down to host free play for the next two hours. But the excitement wasn't over yet! Instead of asking their management to bring the contest winners backstage, the members of Texas in July showed up at our table and asked if they could try their song in Rock Band.

Our MC grabbed the mic. "Okay, we've got a new band up next! Announcing... uh..." He covered the mic fast. "Who do you want to be? Just pick a name."

The band members looked at each other. "I don't know. How about the Purple T-shirts?"

The MC grinned. "Announcing the Purple T-shirts! They're gonna play 'Magnolia'!"

And then Texas in July walked out and played their own song, with a guest singer from the audience. The audience figured it out right away - everyone started snapping photos, and the cheering rose in volume like someone had turned up the dial by five.

And they killed it. It was amazing. Drummer Adam Gray told me afterward that he'd never played Rock Band before, but I never would have known, because he knocked off an 85% Expert on the Impossible Pro Drums track. One of the Texas in July guitarists also stopped me to tell me how natural the charting felt - "This is really good! Wow!" And the guest singer just looked dazed afterward. I don't blame him - if I got to sing one of my favorite band's songs in Rock Band with the actual band backing me, I'd look pretty dazed too.

When we finally had to shut down the game, it was a bit past 11 PM, and we were all a bit floaty from the great night (and lack of food, and possibly too much Red Bull.) But it was an amazing night, both for us at the Rock Band setup and for the concertgoers at the stage proper.

By the way, if you're local to New York City, check out the Downtown Village Pourhouse some Monday night. They run a fantastic Rock Band night, and I say that with confidence not just because it's hosted by Miguel of RockGamer Studios, but because we borrowed a bunch of their equipment for this event.

Part of why I loved going to the Take Action Tour was because of the cause it supported (their beneficiary this year was Sex, Etc., which provides honest, accurate sexuality education to teens.) But if you're looking for opportunities to support charity along with great music, you don't have to wait until the 2012 Take Action Tour - there are many other opportunities to do so via the Rock Band Network. "Firehouse Bar" and "Leave Me Be", by Kylie Hart, benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation; "Red Jacket Mine" by the Pose, "Shiver" by Amy Courts, "One More Time" by Big Kenny, and "Guitars SUCK" by Bumblefoot benefit the American Red Cross; and "She's A Runaway" by Partially Poetic, "Warmachine" by the Sex Generals, and "(pin)Ballz" by Insomniac Games benefit Child's Play.

Carolyn VanEseltine (HMXLachesis) is the RBN Associate Producer at Harmonix. When not hanging out on the forums, she frequently forgets that she lives in the Boston area and goes wandering off to New York or DC on short notice, but so far, she keeps finding her way home again.