"Name a band whose logo you might've drawn on your high-school notebook." Jake Stratton is dressed up like a smarmy 1970s game-show host—with slicked-back hair, a cheap suit, and giant sideburns. Behind him, on a screen hanging over Re-bar's stage, is a nearly exact digital replica of the classic Family Feud display, a column of blank rectangles concealing the top five responses to the question.
Stratton is standing behind a beat-up podium. On either side of him, Helms Alee bassist Dana James and Akimbo singer Jon Weisnewski are facing off, buzzer hands at the ready. Their bandmates stand lined up behind each of them on either side of the stage. The audience, crowded into Re-bar's showroom, whisper and giggle to one another. James slams her hand down on the buzzer and shouts, "Def Leppard!"
Stratton turns to face the screen and calls out, "Def Leppard." Then he grins and asks the catchphrase question of the evening (because all good game-show hosts have a catchphrase): "Does it ROOOCK?"
Ding! One of the rectangles flips over, and with that, Helms Alee have gained control of the board over their challengers. Half the tipsy crowd explodes with cheers, while the other half jokingly boos and heckles. Members of Akimbo throw their hands up in defeat.
This is Grudge Rock: The Rock 'n' Roll Family Feud, which Stratton has been hosting at Re-bar for going on seven months. It is Seattle's funnest new rock night.
For the rest of the night, the members of Helms Alee and Akimbo are asked to name Musicians Who Are Infamous for Their Attraction to Young Ladies (Jerry Lee Lewis, R. Kelly), Popular All-Girl Rock Bands (Sleater-Kinney, the Runaways), and Bands Whose Lead Singer Went On to Do Bigger and Better Things (Police/Sting, No Doubt/Gwen Stefani).
Just like in the traditional game of Family Feud, the band that can guess all the correct answers before getting three strikes wins the points. If the band gets three strikes, their opponent has the chance to steal by simply naming a single correct answer. To make it a little more rock and roll, the bands take turns performing live sets at the end of each round. On this particular night, after stealing quite a few points (and playing a killer set), Helms Alee took home the grand prize, an envelope containing all of the door money. The losers of Akimbo got free haircuts and a bag of porn.
Grudge Rock was thought up years ago when Stratton—a Family Feud fan who can rattle off the long list of hosts along with trivia about each of them—was watching reruns of the classic game show and dreaming about who would be on his team should he ever be lucky enough to play. He realized he wouldn't want his family there by his side—he'd want his bandmates. Hence, Grudge Rock.
"It's one of those things where you get an idea, and you start going through all the things that would work against this idea," says Stratton. "And then you're like, 'Man, you know what? This could actually fly!' Then when you start doing it, you're just waiting for that thing that you didn't think of to come out of nowhere and fuck everything up. And that hasn't happened yet!"
Grudge Rock is a perfect balance of sloppy DIY attitude (lots of beer, homemade buzzers that "moo" or "meow" instead of buzz) and thoughtfully planned effort. What makes watching the whole spectacle so great is Stratton's knack for playing the greasy, know-it-all game-show host professionally enough to control both the crowd and the drunker-by-the-minute band members onstage.
Stratton is no stranger to the spotlight. He's been the announcer for the Rat City Rollergirls derbies for years, he's MC'd Seattle's Semi-Pro Wrestling league (and "fought" in a few matches), and he's also the frontman of long-lived local band BlöödHag, a sci-fi-inspired grindcore band notorious for throwing pulp paperbacks at the audience. (Their motto: "The faster you go deaf, the more time you have to read.")
Stratton says the inspiration for his hilarious Grudge Rock persona is legendary Family Feud host Richard Dawson.
"The Richard Dawson era is the best," Stratton says. "My preparation for becoming a game-show character is to go 'pinkies out.'" He laughs and daintily sticks his right pinky out. "It's the Dawson way. The entire day, leading up to the show, I'm pinkies out when I drink, when I ring people up on the cash register at my day job—and that's how I hold my microphone during the show. I'm collecting pinky rings to help me with that."
Despite its growing success, Grudge Rock is still a work in progress. Stratton would love to build a more professional rig for the buzzer system, get even better "fabulous consolation prizes" for the losing band, and, of course, attract a larger "live studio audience." He's already lining up some exciting things for Grudge Rock's near future.
"I don't want to talk too much about what's coming up, because I'm afraid I'm going to jinx it," say Stratton. "But I am working with the Vera Project and the Showbox to do what I'm calling 'Prime Time Celebrity Specials,' where I would get two larger bands, who might not want to play Wednesday night at Re-bar, and have them play for charity. And I'm working with the Vera Project to do an all-ages one—we don't want to leave the kids out."
A Grudge Rock tour is also a possibility.
"I've been trying to get bands from out of town to do it, but what touring bands like the chance they might not get paid? But we can pack all of this up in a car pretty easily and take it down to Portland, book a few Portland bands, maybe take it all the way down the coast for a week."
For now, Grudge Rock is still Seattle's secret, happening the first Wednesday of every month at Re-bar. The next "episode" is April 1 with—survey says! (sorry, I couldn't help it)—the Girls versus Blank Its. Does it rock? Hell yes.