by Sandy Moore
“Oh my GAAAAWWWWWWDDDD,” said a young girl in the crowd when middle schoolers Ben Miller, Ian Askew, Michael Untereiner, and Zeke Wapner — members of the teen band “Ladle Fight”– took the stage. Their fans, including a gaggle of girls with chipped nail polish and flip-flops, have watched the boys grow up.
In Takoma Park, home to more than a few veterans of Woodstock, many parents seem delighted that in an age of iPods, laptops, and Facebook, many young people are choosing to make their own music. No matter that some of it is loud enough to frighten the pets, parents welcome their teens playing in bands as a valuable outlet for creativity and a team-building experience on par with playing on a sports team.
In a sign of how many teen musicians are ready to perform, for the fourth year in a row, the Takoma Folk Festival sought to showcase young talent at the Festival’s “Grassy Nook Stage,” where a steady stream of teen musicians and their enthusiastic fans held court from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., despite the intermittent rain.
Although some of the performers chafed at the Festival’s requirement that they play “unplugged,” most of the bands were willing to leave their electric guitars at home, and play cajons instead of drum sets, in exchange for a great performance venue.
From left to right, Ladle Fight bandmates Zeke Wapner, Ben Miller, Ian Askew and Michael Untereiner play unplugged. photo by Julie Wiatt
Ladle Fight bets on original music
Members of the band “Ladle Fight” were friends before they were band mates. The four rockers, who began making music in the 3rd grade, are still tight. Sometimes they even write songs collaboratively.
Thirteen-year-old Ben Miller, often the group’s front man (singer, bass and organ player) began Ladle Fight’s set at the Festival with a song he wrote, called “Writer’s Block,” followed by”Damn Fool,” a song about global warming. As one might expect of kids raised in progressive Takoma Park, the band’s songwriters tend toward political themes.
“I like their original songs,” said middle schooler Janine Bates. “It’s one of the things that sets the band apart: they write all their own music.”
Drummer and songwriter Ian Askew told the audience about how a recent trip to a Mississippi blues museum inspired the song he wrote, “Preacher.” When Ian reached for his blues harp, eighth grader Eva Blockstein smiled knowingly, “Ian plays harmonica every day after school.”
“I really enjoy playing for people, at community events,” said Ian. “My aspiration is to become a professional musician, and it’s great to get started young so you can experiment with different kinds of music and figure out what you really like.”
Bad Sauce bubbled up from the basement
Bad Sauce musicians Puck Bregstone, Patrick Clark (on drums), Irene Ravitz, Dylan Nunn and Julian Bregstone on the Grassy Nook Stage. photo by Julie Wiatt.
Teen musician Puck Bregstone, of the band “Bad Sauce,” said it all began with a classified ad: “Parent-coached kids’ band forming– ages 8 to 10 — drummer wanted.” Patrick Clark’s mom saw the ad and sensed an opportunity for her son, then a fourth grader who was already serious about drumming. Soon the two boys were jamming together in the Bregstone’s basement. Six years later, the young men (now sophomores at different high schools) are still band mates. Puck now plays trombone in addition to guitar, a distinctive ingredient in their eclectic pop-rock mix.
“A key to our success,” said drummer Patrick modestly, “is the way our singers harmonize.” Singing is mostly the province of Puck and fellow band member Irene Ravitz, who together front the band in performance. On familiar covers (the majority of their songs) like “Mellow Yellow” or originals like “Baby Soft Skin”, Puck and Irene sing with a sophisticated style that belies their years.
“I met Puck through Sunday School,” said 15-year old singer (and tuba-player) Irene, “and they invited me over to play at their house.” It was more like a sound studio than a basement — Irene was smitten. “I asked if I could go over and jam another time . . . And they said, “You’re in the band!” Band members Dylan Nunn (bass) and Julian Bregstone (trumpet) joined the band in recent years.
Phil Bregstone, the self-described coach of Bad Sauce, is credited with engineering the band’s polished sound. Said Phil: “I had a drum set and a PA system. Like many other parents, I asked myself: How can I create an enriching experience for my kids?”
Band members say their favorite gig so far was Takoma Park’s Obama Inaugural Ball. “It felt really legit,” said Irene. “We got to march up on stage playing our instruments, said Puck, “That was awesome.”
Recent Blair graduates and musicians Abdul Nurridin, Hindowa Comeh (only partly visible), and Philip Kavuma — also known as “Those Guys” — perform at the Folk Festival. photo courtesy Those Guys.
Also in the teen band line-up were recent Blair graduates “Those Guys,” represented by bass man Philip Kavuma and guitarist Abdul Nurridin (absent was drummer Gabriel Jones). The popular trio, known for their many performances at Blair and “Stop the Violence” rallies, had a major setback when their friend and bandmate Paris Essoumba died last year.
“When we lost him, we were depressed, we didn’t do much performing. But then we thought — Paris was all about the music. He’d want us to play. That motivated us to get new members and start again,” said Philip.
Those Guys primarily play original electric music. They’ve performed at small clubs, like Takoma Park’s Electrik Maid, and large venues, like the University of Maryland, where they opened for rapper Immortal Technique. At the Festival, the duo also played covers; Abdul took advantage of being unplugged to perform a soulful cover of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”
“Those Guys” have an upcoming gig October 23rd at the Gapbusters “Get Out the Vote” rally in Silver Spring. For more information, visit the band’ on Facebook.
Jeanne and Lauren: “We’re not really rock”
Twins Jeanne and Lauren Jarvis also performed at the Takoma Park Folk Festival. photo by Julie Wiatt.
Stratocasters aren’t for everyone. Not that twin sisters Lauren and Jeanne Jarvis (17 years old) haven’t flirted with rock n’ roll.
“When we competed in the Montgomery County “Battle of the Bands “contest, we felt kind of out of place. We’re not rock or anything. But we were joined by The Agiles’ drummer, Miles Kelley”, said Lauren. Jeanne continued, “And it felt pretty good to come in third !”
Beginning in second grade, the twins performed in school talent shows, then for church events, and as they got older, at coffeehouses and the Takoma Folk Festival.
This summer they had a gig in Gruene, Texas. “The crowd seemed to really like us, to like our music,” said Lauren. “But when someone in the audience noticed the Obama bumper sticker on my guitar, he spoke up and said, “Obama is ruining your lives!” and we started to get a little freaked out. I guess they were pretty conservative.”
Jeanne and Lauren’s songs aren’t so much political as personal, confronting loss and death, celebrating love and joy. Said Lauren: “Writing songs . . . helps me cope with everything. It helps me deal
with stress.” Jeanne added: “It’s a way of expressing ourselves really- – and it calms us to sing together.”
With the support of guitar teacher Brian Webber, the girls made their first EP, and plan to record a CD sometime soon. They debate whether it’s worth choosing colleges in close proximity so they can continue to perform together. Said Jeanne: “Now, it’s a hobby – but it would really awesome if we got to go on tour!”
Where do they go from here?
Jeanne and Lauren aren’t the only ones with high hopes. Philip Kavuma, one of “Those Guys” hopes that someday he’ll play “at a college homecoming — opening for a famous band.” Said Ladle Fight’s Ben Miller: “One of my dreams is to play at the 9:30 Club.”
Find out more about teen musicians online:
Jeanne & Lauren