After weeks of our 9th annual battle’s preliminary rounds in early 2020, twelve of sixteen bands had been eliminated. That March, the semi-finals had just determined which four would go head-to-head, live, for the prize of $1,000 and gracing the cover of BandWagon Magazine. We all know what happened next. Yet somehow, all four bands carried on. They made their own recordings, found new players, harnessed the power of positive thinking and the internet. Some even grew big-ass beards – after all, it’s been a whole year! And so, the long-awaited conclusion to the 2020 BandWagon Battle of the Bands finally goes down Friday, March 12, 2021 at the Union Colony Civic Center in Greeley.
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At the start of 2020, Nick Nelsen barely had time to sleep. The 21-year-old musician had promised away his time so enthusiastically that any opportunities for non-productive waking moments had disappeared.
“The way I got through it was to never think about anything,” Nelsen said. “I would just do whatever I needed to do in that specific second, because if I looked forward I would have freaked out.”
Not only was Nelsen in his senior year as a Bachelor of Music at the University of Northern Colorado, he was also playing regular gigs with his eponymous band (Nelsen), teaching music at the Boys and Girls Club of Weld County and composing scores for a slew of indie horror films.
Nelsen had lived an overcommitted life since moving to Colorado in 2016 from a small farming community in Nebraska. During college he played varsity baseball, released two albums and dove into an ambitious curriculum of composition, recording and music performance classes.
“I was already used to barely sleeping and barely eating,” he said.
Despite Nelsen’s deadline addiction, though, Nelsen (the band) was finally hitting its stride.
“The momentum was really good,” he said. “We were doing four gigs in a one month span.”
On the first day of February last year, the band beat out Hot Tub Wrestler, Ethan More or Less and the Able Dogs in round one of BandWagon’s 2020 Battle of the Bands. The success was three years in the making. Nelsen had also competed in 2018 and 2019, never to make it past the first round.
Even so, Nelsen (the human man) says the win felt bittersweet. In the spring of 2019, the band’s original guitarist, Conner Shaw, and original keyboardist, Landon Mills, both left Colorado for California.
“I wish we would’ve won all of them,” he said. “But then it’s also sweet, because the friends I have now were there to experience it.”
Of course, Greeley’s theater of musical war was closed to battle before 2020’s competition could be decided. Like almost every other band around the country, the pandemic forced Nelsen into a temporary retirement from live performance.
When the Battle finally reaches its ultimate conclusion in March, Nelsen tells BandWagon the band will be in good company – regardless of the outcome – praising the other bands in the competition, and reminiscing on a tender moment with Graham Good.
“We headlined a gig and he went on right before us. Graham was talking to me and he was like, ‘You know, we mesh really well together on a lineup. We make the audience feel good, and you guys make the audience… feel.’”
If Nelsen’s latest single, “This is the End,” is any indication, the band has refined its emotive sound over the past year. In the heart-on-sleeve ballad, the band trades melodic leads between Nelsen’s rich baritone and wailing slide guitar from Elliot Turner.
Although Nelsen says that the song’s narrative voice is a fictional creation, he admits that, as with all of his music, he drew from personal experience.
“It’s a character I created, but it’s kind of like me earlier in life when I found it hard to commit,” he said. “No matter how much love anyone gave me, I was always thinking about how they could hurt me at any second.”
Armed with tearjerkers, new and old, Nelsen is poised and ready to make the audience “feel” when the Battle of the Bands returns.