Sherburne County is hoping that its United Way fundraiser, a countywide battle of the bands, doesn't become a battle of music festivals.

On July 28, bands or disc jockeys at 10 county venues will entertain between 8 and 11 p.m., with listeners' donations going to the United Way. The same night, about 50 miles northwest of Big Lake, where two of the bands will play, the Halfway Jam Festival in Royalton will wind up a three-day event that is expected to draw up to 10,000 fans each night.

"It stinks to have two events going on at the same time that are so close," said Eric Moudry, lead guitarist for Strange Daze, which will play at both events. The band will be at the Halfway Jam on July 27 -- the same night as headliners 38 Special and Molly Hatchet -- and then play the next evening for the United Way at the Friendly Buffalo in Big Lake.

Bill Henry, owner of the Halfway Jam, said he was unaware of Sherburne County's battle of the bands but predicted that the events are far enough apart "not to bother each other too much." Because of the nature of the events and the various venues involved, the two events will likely appeal to different crowds, said Joy Nadeau of the Sherburne County Area United Way.

From the Hwy. 10 billboard near the Elk River-Ramsey border to the buzz at the Long Siding Bar and Grill in Princeton, where the Buzz Burger reigns supreme, the United Way event has strived to hit all the right notes.

Here's how the event works: Throughout the evening, each venue will monitor donations, updating crowds every 30 minutes. At 11 p.m., the United Way will announce from its Elk River hub which venue and band raised the most money. The winning bar and band will be promoted on a Hwy. 10 billboard leading into Elk River for slightly more than two weeks.

"In the 12 years I've worked at Long Siding, we've done a Johnny Cash Birthday Bash, a tribute to the Blues Brothers and beach party things," said DJ Bob Weber, aka Mr. Nashville. "But never anything like this."

The United Way fundraiser "is a great idea," said Carol Dalske of Northern Attitudes, a Princeton restaurant and bar that will feature the local band Root of Music.

"I'm not too worried about the Halfway Jam," Dalske said. "We have posters. There are T-shirts with the names of all the venues. The United Way is very organized. The word is out."

Shooters, also in Princeton, figures its barbecue ribs will lure plenty of regulars. And DJ Bonnie with Rugged Entertainment will rev up and lead the karaoke crowd, said bar manager Jenna Johnson.

"There's a lot of competition in our area and that makes me nervous," Johnson said. "But we've got our banners up, our signs up. We're telling everybody about this. We're ready."

Zimmerman Bowl hopes to light up the donations meter with Black Out, which facilities manager Dan Hollom describes as a Top 40 band. Princeton's Finish Line Cafe had lined up a DJ. Other participating venues include KJ's Refuge Bar in Big Lake, Time Out in Elk River and in Zimmerman, the American Legion and Ridgewood Bay.

Guitarist Moudry, of Strange Daze, said that despite the festival in Royalton, "We could still pack the bars."

Strange Daze recently recorded in Nashville and has a record deal in the works, but Moudry relishes the thought of playing at the Friendly Buffalo in Big Lake. He coaches at Options, a Big Lake company that trains disabled adults to be part of the workforce.

"I'm very involved with the United Way for my work," Moudry said. "And we play the Friendly Buffalo anyway. For me, this is perfect.

"I'm hoping for a big night."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419