CAMBRIDGE — Ask 50 local music fans for the meaning of the Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble, the annual WZLX-sponsored battle of the bands, and you’ll get 50 different answers. Ask any of the judges drawn from the New England music world on any of the nine nights of competition what makes for a winner, and the answers will run the gamut as well. That’s both the appeal and the drawback of the contest: It’s simultaneously a feel-good, community-engendering homecoming of sorts for the local music scene, and a divisive clash of opinions.
On paper, the criteria for choosing a winner are more clear. Bands are judged on songwriting innovation, on-stage musical effectiveness and showmanship, vocal prowess, pacing of the set, and a certain “it’’ factor. One might make an argument that the winner should represent the most likely to succeed of this year’s crop of bands, although it’s been quite a few years since one went on to make a big splash on the larger national stage — the Dresden Dolls in 2003 being perhaps the best recent example.