Local musicians will rock the schoolhouse tonight to raise money for the middle school guitar program. The show is from 6-9 p.m. on Friday at East Middle in the auditorium. Tickets are $5 for ages 10 and older and free for those under 10. The event is open to the community, and features headliner Rory Kelly Band with special guests the E Street Project.
Parent Rusty Gragg helped organize the event after seeing a need in his son’s classroom.
“The first day I asked the instructor if he needed anything, and he said some picks and tuners, so I bought some picks and tuners,” said Gragg. “A few weeks later they were selling Moon Pies to restring the instruments, and it became obvious to me the class gets no funding, as cool as it is.”
Gragg reached out to local musicians for help, and the result is tonight’s concert, with all proceeds going toward the guitar class.
“If things go good, we are hoping it will fund the program for several years,” said Gragg. “If we get a lot of response from the community, it can be a test for something else we can do at another school.”
Members of the E Street Project include Darrell Camby (guitar, vocalist), Steve Taylor (drummer), Chris Williams (guitar), Tanya Williams (vocalist), Chuck Taylor (bass) and Marc Hyatt (guitar). They will open up the show on Friday with familiar tunes.
“They have put together a diverse set list from Billy Idol to Pink Floyd to some country songs,” said Gragg. “They will play about an hour, then Rory will play. Then the plan is to get everybody on stage simultaneously and have an open mic.”
Kelly is the lead vocalist and plays guitar, along with his wife Crystal on bass and his dad Mike on drums. They will roll out with some original songs during their set.
But, before the show begins, students of the guitar program will showcase their talents by playing guitar as guests arrive. They’ll also help the musicians set up.
“We want as many that can stay to be like makeshift roadies, be there for sound check, run cables, we want the kids to be a part of it, to get a part of the real life music. We want them to be as much as part of the show as possible,” said Gragg.
Chris Wilson is the band director at East Middle and teaches the guitar program to about 15 seventh and eighth graders.
“I approach guitar class as everything they need to know to keep going in guitar after one semester,” Wilson said. “I try and set it up where they not only how to play, but they know about the instrument and the kind of guitars that are out there, so that when the semester is over, if they choose to pursue it on their own they can.”
Wilson said he’s excited that local musicians are taking the time to support these kids, and he’s excited to show them the difference between a working musician and playing guitar at home.
“I hope the students ask them a lot of questions, because it’s much different playing in your bedroom and being a working musician,” said Wilson.
Students all use a classical guitar each, but Wilson said they are always in need of picks, tuners and strings.
“We currently have a set of classical guitars and they do a great job. In an ideal world I would like to get a steel-string acoustic guitar and an electric guitar so they can get the full expanse of the different guitars that are out there.”
Braylan Bates, 13, has taken the course three years in a row in hopes he can pursue guitar after middle school. He’s learned about 50 different songs and about 30 chords.
“I have learned how to pace myself, count the notes and recognize the note names,” said Bates. “We definitely need new picks and new strings. At least once a week a string breaks on a guitar and we are running low on them. We need books because we have been doing the same one for three years.”
Jada McDonald, 13, is in her second year of guitar, and enjoys how playing guitar centers her mind. She got interested in the instrument after watching her great uncle play banjo and watching guitar players at church.
“It takes away all the cares of the world because you are focusing on one thing and not anything else,” she said. “I have learned hand switching because I was never good at it. I’ve been working on doing it better and it’s gotten better. It’s one of the things I am mostly interested in; it’s the best thing I can do. We are really happy that people support kids fulfilling their destiny.”