By Julie Lawrence Special to Published May 25, 2008 at 5:15 AM

As far as battles of the bands go, the stakes were pretty high. The Up and Under's nine-week competition of Milwaukee-area musicians started with 18 bands, welcomed nearly 2,000 voting fans and concluded with a collective motorcycle ride to the finals from the House of Harley.

Radio personality Gasman from WHQG, 102.9 "The Hog" arrived to broadcast live during the final battle between semifinalists Steez, a jam band from Madison, and Fat J and the Pinners, reggae-influenced rockers out of Waterford.

Whether it was the party bus of friends that arrived with them or their infectious stage presence, Fat J and the Pinners emerged victorious, scoring a Summerfest gig at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse at noon on Saturday, June 28.

"They put on a hell of a show," says Up and Under bartender / promotions director Roy Henning, who organized the bar's battle of the bands for the second year. "During one of the rounds they all got up on stage in sombreros and throw rugs. During another one they had nun costumes on."

The on-stage get-up is a regular thing for Fat J and the Pinners, says guitar player Gabe Bowling.

"From the beginning we said we wanted a showy, visually-stimulating act to separate us from other bands. You never know what we're going to do."

Although he won't disclose their stage plans for the upcoming Summerfest slot, he promises it will be "theatrical."

In addition to the show, Fat J and the Pinners also received some free studio time with veteran local producer and musician Jeff Hamilton. Bowling says they plan to use it to finish up their first full-length release. Right now, they're sitting on a four-song demo featuring the bluntly named tracks "Ham and Eggs," "Chicken Stir Fry," "Guinness," and "Whiskey and Blow."

Prior to Summerfest, they've got a show at Liquor Sweets on Friday, May 30. And thanks to the success of this year's battle, Henning says it will likely be an on-going yearly tradition.

"Last year we did three days just to feel it out and see what kind of response we'd get," he says. "I know that when you say 'battle of the bands' there is a stereotype that a lot of them are pretty bad, and there aren't good bands and they're not well attended. That's not what we wanted. We wanted good bands with the real purpose of going to Summerfest."

Bowling says the band couldn't be more grateful.

"We'd all played Summerfest independently of each other, but until now we've never had the chance to do it as a band," says Bowling. "We really wanted it and I think it's going to be our biggest show yet."

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”