Bands 'Drown Out' big tobacco

Back in the early '90s, I joined a fledgling band comprised of members that had played together previously for a few years. We were preparing to go on our first extended road trip and were piling in a Chevy van en route to several neighboring states.

About five minutes in, it became obvious that I was the lone one of the five passengers who wasn't a heavy smoker, so I made some pithy comment about the situation. Their buddy who was doubling as road manager removed his cigarette long enough to ask, "You don't smoke? Well, you better LEARN."

The point to my trip down memory interstate is that smoking and rock 'n' roll have a long history together.

But the TASK organization is striving to break that bond.

Today at 7 p.m., five area bands will take the stage of the Ag Hall at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka as part of "Drown Out." The finalists -- Addictive Behavior (Manhattan), Backseat Driver (Topeka), 5th Quarter (Manhattan), Leprosy Grams (Greenwood, Mo.) and Oxygen Deprivation (Meriden) -- will compete in front of an audience and a panel of five judges. The winner earns the choice of a $500 cash prize or a day's worth of studio time at GrandyZine Recording, with production supervised by songwriter Kerry Livgren from the band Kansas.

The event is part of a larger gathering organized by TASK.

"This week we have a youth summit where we bring in about 120 teens from across Kansas," says Ryan Bishop, a steering committee member of TASK. "We teach them about tobacco prevention and what they can do with their communities, what's going on statewide and nationally. We pretty much raise their awareness and knowledge of tobacco prevention."

Drown Out is the first such attempt by TASK to marry music with this message.

Past Event

"Drown Out" Battle of the Bands

  • Friday, August 1, 2003, midnight
  • Topeka Expocenter, One Expocenter Drive, Topeka, KS
  • All ages


"We've been tossing the idea around for a couple of years about a battle of the bands. We finally got enough people to back us up and support it," he says.

When selecting the youthful combatants, the criteria was that the groups had to be made up of teenagers -- many of whom are still in high school -- and they couldn't be signed to a national label. Acts were judged "on sound quality and style that we thought would be pleasing to a large amount of people."

So do any of the band members in the competition smoke?

"Not that I'm aware of," Bishop responds, "and if they do they're not going to tell us. (laughs)

"I doubt any of them at the show are going to pull the whole Keith Richards thing and stick a cigarette in the neck of the guitar."

Formed in 1998, TASK originally was an acronym for Teens Against Smoking in Kansas, but this was dropped to allow the campaign to focus on all types of tobacco abuse. Bishop describes the organization as a youth-led, tobacco prevention group whose main working force is a state board made up of about 35 teens from across Kansas.

Bishop expects "Drown Out" to draw interest from other local bands because TASK plans on setting up a booth where regional artists can sell their CDs to the 300-500 people he envisions in attendance.

Ultimately, TASK hopes the evening will be "smoking" without the lingering fumes of tobacco stinking up the air.

Perhaps Kevin Lawson of the pop-rock act Backseat Driver sums it up best when he says, "Whether one smokes or not doesn't make their music any better or worse ... There's a ton of rock bands around the world. Plenty are kick ass AND tobacco free."


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