If you stop by the Highdive tonight, you’ll have the power to send off a local band to a national music festival.

Five local bands have been selected to compete in Champaign’s portion of the Wakarusa Winter Classic. The winner may end up performing at Wakarusa 2007, a summer music and camping festival in Kansas. The Fuz, Santa, Matt Poss & The Wild Bunch, Nadafinga and The Undersound will be playing their hearts out to get the most audience votes, but only one will reign supreme.

“It’s essentially a traveling ‘Battle of the Bands’ event to generate interest in the upcoming Wakarusa festival,” said Ward Gollings, booking agent for the Highdive.

Here’s how it works: In each of the 19 participating cities, the band with the most votes from members in the audience will be declared the winner. (It’s like the midterm elections, except much easier on Republicans.) From there, the winning bands will have their music posted on the Wakarusa Web site for the online portion of the competition. The three bands with the most online votes get to play at Wakarusa, and have the opportunity to win some sweet prizes.

Last year, Probably Vampires won the Champaign showcase, and battled with other winners at the actual festival.

“The winner of that got VIP treatment at the festival, and Probably Vampires won that too,” said Gollings.

“I would relish in every single moment,” said Stan McConnell, lead singer and guitarist of Santa, on the opportunity to win VIP status. “I’d probably run around with no shirt on backstage.”

Regardless of how naked his celebration may be, McConnell’s still modest about Santa’s slot in the line-up.

“I think it’s an incredible opportunity,” said McConnell. “Wakarusa, in the grand scheme of festivals, is swayed towards the jam band, but it’s still very eclectic.”

Although only the initial lineup has been announced, headliners such as Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals and Medeski, Martin and Wood juxtaposed against Widespread Panic and Younder Mountain String Band only help reinforce the festival’s diversity.

Every fan in the audience tonight gives the five bands a chance to play at Wakarusa with these artists by voting, regardless of how long they stay at the show.

“I’m just hoping that we can get as many people out there as possible,” said McConnell. “We made a Facebook group about it; we were flyerin’, and gave them out to everyone in our classes.”

Still, though, McConnell understands that in a competition like this, quantity may not necessarily beat out quality.

“I think Matt Poss [& the Wild Bunch] are going to be a challenge. But, I think we have a great chance because we’re from Champaign, and people kind of know us for trying to ‘bring it’ live as much as we can.”

Doors open at the Highdive tonight at 8 p.m. The Fuz kicks the night off at 8:30 p.m., Santa hits the stage at 9:30 p.m. and Matt Poss & The Wild Bunch, Nadafinga and The Undersound begin at 10:30 p.m., 11:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m., respectively. Come out and cast your vote!

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