- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2005

CLEVELAND — For one weekend, they were as close to rock stars as they’re likely to ever get. They sang on the bus during their road trip, jammed in the hotel lobby and played in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Corporate executives from the telecommunication, advertising, engineering and other industries shed their suits and met some of their greatest rock and roll dreams Saturday as eight corporate bands competed in the “Fortune Battle of the Corporate Bands.”

Regional competitions narrowed the 40 bands to eight finalists, including the Direct Connectors from telecommunications company Sprint Nextel in Reston, Va.

Many of the bands played cover songs of traditional, rowdy rock hits like Van Halen’s “Jump,” John Mellencamp’s “Hurt So Good,” and Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” during 15-minute sets to compete to be called the best corporate band in America.

A crowd favorite — and the winner — was Pants, a group of executives at McKinney advertising agency in Durham, N.C., which presented a 12-minute rock opera based on the fictional world of the year 22453 when pants are obsolete.

Singer Philip Marchington, one of the people behind the Travelocity traveling gnome, appeared as a monk — they rule the future world, of course — during the performance. Halfway through the song, he shed his robe to reveal a fake tattoo of flames on his chest.

“We do it for fun but we take it very seriously,” said the band’s lead singer and McKinney copywriter Mitch Bennett. “We want to bring total rock domination … in a friendly way.”

The group closed with a sarcastic song called “Thank you for inducting us into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

It’s a risky move to name yourself to the Hall of Fame, but the judges — Liberty Devitto, a drummer in Billy Joel’s band; G.E. Smith, former leader of the “Saturday Night Live” band; Southside Johnny from the Asbury Dukes, and guitarist Jeff Carlisi from 38 Special — rewarded the creativity with first place.

“It’s just an opportunity to not take yourself too seriously as a company,” said Pants guitarist and McKinney chief strategy officer Andrew Delbridge.

The Sprint Nextel band, the Direct Connectors, did not place, but said they enjoyed playing at the Rock and Roll Hall, alongside memorabilia of music legends Jerry Garcia, the Beatles, Aretha Franklin and others.

“We really wanted to win,” said Robin Boniface, vice president of sales operations and the Direct Connectors’ female vocalist. “But if nothing else, I played at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

Playing in a company band has other benefits.

“The people who work for me think its so cool to have a rocker boss,” Ms. Boniface said. “It opens you up. Having fun makes you more human … plus, my kids think I’m cool.”

Band members said working with people from all over the company helps communication.

“Dealing with a drummer isn’t that much different from dealing with someone from IT,” said Tony Ridder, a graphic artist at Sprint and one of the band’s guitarists.

The music itself has rewards, too.

“It keeps you from killing your boss,” joked Mike Long, the lead guitarist and a precision analog marketing manager at Texas Instruments’ office in Tucson, Ariz. His band, Spurious Freedom, won third place.

For the U2 Seaters, the band is a way to keep in contact with co-workers at other company locations.

“We work all over. The band brings us together and makes the work environment stronger,” said Steve Watton, a singer and store manager at Fantastic Furniture in Sydney, Australia.

The band won a ticket to the contest after winning a similar corporate band competition in Australia.

For the Renal Rockers, a group of executives at a kidney dialysis company in Nashville, music is a way to escape particularly stressful work.

“We work with patients … in kidney failure,” said lead vocalist and guitarist Russell Dimmitt, the vice president of technology services at Renal Care Group Inc. “They’re in pretty bad shape and they stay with us until they get transplanted or pass away. This helps give us some sanity.”

Money raised from the competition, including the $7,500 entrance fees and $800,000 in tickets, goes toward the Rock and Roll Hall’s music education program.

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