The Rock & Roll Rumble returned to the Boston music scene in 2023. Here’s a partial primer on Rock & Roll Rumble history.

 

As I wrote here recently, the Rumble traces its roots all the way back to 1979. In that year and in 1980, it was billed “The Rumble at the Rat,” as the multiple-night battle of the bands took place at The Rathskeller in Kenmore Square. The event was co-sponsored and supported by the legendary Boston rock station WBCN. For decades, it was the showcase in the city for up-and-coming local acts. And some of those up-and-comers became household names in the Boston area, thanks in part to the Rumble.

 

For more than a decade, Boston DJ and Boston Emissions host Anngelle Wood has produced the Rumble. Anngelle is a friend and a colleague and has done an outstanding job over the years of curating all of it, striking the perfect balance of honoring Rock & Roll Rumble history while also moving things forward in new and exciting ways. Together we’ve witnessed some historic moments over the years. I’m going to share some of my favorites and the lore that goes along with them.

 

11 Great Moments in Rock & Roll Rumble History

But before I do, a look back at the 2023 Rock & Roll Rumble Finals. Last year’s field was stacked. I was able to attend five of the six preliminary nights, which I recapped here and here. And while I missed the semifinals, there’s a recap of those over here.

 

The 2024 Rock & Roll Rumble Prelims take place at the Middle East Upstairs in Cambridge Thursday, April 4 through Saturday, April 6, then Thursday April 11 through Saturday, April 13. Doors at 8, rock starts at 9. Get your tickets here. And keep scrolling to get your Boston rock scene history lesson, as viewed through the lens of the Rock & Roll Rumble. I think there’ll be a few bands you remember.

  • 1979: The First "Rumble at the Rat"

    The Neighborhoods edge out La Peste, who had won in ’78. Two other legendary Boston bands–Mission of Burma and Lyres–competed that year.

  • 1983: 'Til Tuesday

    Arguably the biggest-ever Rumble winner, ‘Til Tuesday (and Aimee Mann) would go on to great success after their big win. They beat Sex Execs in the Finals and The Del Fuegos in the Semis!

  • 1986: Gang Green

    It’s always a cause for celebration when a punk band wins it all. Even though, by ’86, Gang Green had moved along from their classic sound and lineup from ’80-’83.

  • 1988: A Stacked Field

    A veritable who’s-who of the late ’80s Boston rock scene took part in the ’88 contest: Think Tree, The Lemonheads, Bullet LaVolta, Bim Skala Bim, Tribe. Heretix won it all.

  • 1992: An Even More Stacked Field

    The fertile ’90s Boston alternative rock scene was on display at the ’92 Rumble. Competitors included Powerman 5000, Morphine, Letters to Cleo, Stomp Box, and Sam Black Church. And none of them even made the finals! That honor went to Big Catholic Guilt.

  • 1999: The '90s Finish Strong

    Metalcore gods Cave In competed in the ’99 Rumble. They didn’t make it past the prelims. Lowell legends The Shods did, though. But they lost in the finals to The Sheila Devine, who got signed and are still making records today. Damn good records, too.

  • 2000: A Stunning Upset

    Going into the Y2K Rumble, Waltham was everyone’s darling, from fans to critics. It was almost a forgone conclusion that they’d win. But they didn’t An upstart punk rock band from the South Shore called Darkbuster came in and ruined everyone’s fun. My favorite story in all of Rumble lore.

  • 2003: My First Rumble

    As a WBCN DJ, I helped promote and even judged at the “WBCN Rock & Roll Rumble” each year. My job was made difficult that first year when the band that won it all wasn’t a rock & roll band at all. Punk cabaret act The Dresden Dolls, y’all.

  • 2005: Another Huge Upset

    From the first time we BCNers saw Robby Roadsteamer, we thought we had a winner. We thought we had our savior. It wasn’t meant to be, as he lost in the finals to Reverend Glasseye. But Robby did win in the end, as he ended up on the air at BCN.

  • 2009: The Last BCN Rumble

    We didn’t know it at the time, but the ’09 Rumble would be WBCN’s last, as the station would leave the Boston airwaves that August. So the final winner of the “WBCN Rock & Roll Rumble?” The Luxury.

  • 2014: Put The Rock Back In It

    Some years “rock” harder than others at the Rumble. Finalists Goddamn Draculas, Petty Morals, and Await Rescue all made the finals in ’14 and were all rock-solid rock bands. Goddamn Draculas took the crown.

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