It could be considered his big break, that is, if he lands the gig.
Milwaukeean Matthew Haeffel has pushed past nearly 200 hopefuls in the third annual Briggs & Stratton Battle of the Bands contest. The 28-year-old is competing for the grand prize of playing on a main stage at Summerfest, but the band will be one short if they make it.
Back in March, online song entries poured in from around the world. For three weeks, voters narrowed down the selection to 10 finalists. Then, a committee of Briggs employees selected the top three. Unlike last year, Haeffel and his band mates made the cut.
“We were in the competition last year,” Haeffel explained. “We grabbed the number 11 spot in the first round, so we missed going to the second round by only one spot. I actually told people I didn’t want to do it this year because it’s so intense. It’s weeks of bugging my friends to vote, and they’re all annoyed with me by now.”
One friend, however, is no longer with Haeffel. Fox Point native Tim Reck died of heart complications in April of this year. Reck occasionally accompanied Haeffel when they performed live, and even is featured on Haeffel's latest single that he released on May 24. It's Reck's last recording before his death.
"I'm going to be releasing a single tonight," said Haeffel. "It's called 'Hey But A What A.' I'm dedicating that to my friend Tim Reck who's recently passed. He actually played drums and sang a little on that. He was supposed to play with us if we won the Briggs competition, but now he's only going to be there in spirit."
Even after Reck's recent death, Haeffel is still ready to take the Summefest stage without him. He says along with the possibility of being noticed by a music industry professional while performing, the winner of the competition gets to record a professional music video and snatch some press opportunities.
The acoustic folk rock singer is against some stiff competition, though. His band is facing off against A Hero en Route from Evansville, Indiana and the Chicago-based SLAMABAMA. Haeffel says everyone is neck-and-neck.
“We were in first place for a week, and then SLAMABAMA came ahead, and we’ve been in second ever since,” said Haeffel. “And it’s live updating on the website. When it’s really close, you can see yourself move from first place to second place, back to first. It’s really nerve racking. I try to keep my distance from watching it or I’d go nuts.”
Haeffel says he’s trying to keep his expectations low, and even second place would be great recognition, but winning could be great for his pocketbook. After attending three different colleges over a period of four years without earning a degree, Haeffel turned to the one thing he loved to make ends meet.
“Music is my only income,” Haeffel said, explaining he’s currently international on iTunes. “I used to work traditional jobs, but then I decided a couple years ago to do this full time. I noticed, the jobs I was doing, I was making about the same amount of money in music. Why not do what I love full time?”
That’s why he’s gone out to promote himself. The 28-year-old said he’s played on every non-commercial radio station in Milwaukee and had another radio gig later that day.
After forming his first band in high school and applying to play at Summerfest eight years in a row (each year getting an official rejection letter), this may be his first chance of playing on the big stage.
You can vote for your favorite artist on Facebook here. The final day of voting is May 28, and the winner will perform on June 2.