Jam Packed

Towson day camp turns younsters into rock stars for a week

July 03, 1999|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

Michael Stein was alone until one faithful day

when a stray dog crossed his path and pink came into play.

-- "Pink Street Revolution"

The rock-and-roll band's lead singer hates the chorus. The lead guitarist has yet to figure out his big solo. The song doesn't even have an ending, and it's getting nearly too hot to practice.

"Hey, we have 30 minutes to do whatever we're going to do," the bass player warns.

In half that time, the ending is discovered, the guitarist pulls out a riff that everyone loves and the singer trims the dreaded chorus from three to two repetitions. The band is exceedingly pleased.

Last night, Pink Street Revolution made its concert debut, and the audience went wild. A limited release CD of their single, "Pink Street Revolution" will soon be printed. It's expected to be quite a collector's item.

Maybe Pink Street's music won't crack Billboard's Top 40. But, then you won't find them tearing up hotel rooms or landing in detox either. What brought this band together, shaped its sound, and made its stellar performance possible can be summed up in just two words:

Summer camp.

"It's really fun," says a beaming Jordon Eagan, 11, of Monkton, a Pink Street guitarist and aspiring sixth grader, "I'm getting to play. I can't believe it." Pink Street started simply as Band No. 3, one of eight rock bands formed last Monday at Dayjams, a week-long day camp, held at Notre Dame Prepatory School in Towson. Few of Dayjam's 49 campers -- ranging in age from 9 to 15 -- knew each other beforehand, nor had ever played in a rock band.

Some had never even touched a musical instrument. Toby Fitzick, 12, of Baltimore had never sung -- until he became lead singer of Resereksion and found himself screaming punk rock lyrics in front of an audience.

"It's great to yell stuff in a microphone," says Fitzick. "It's like there's a pecking order and I'm at the top."

The youngsters were grouped mostly at random with the greenest of the beginners spread around. The camp counselors -- nearly all belong to local bands themselves -- pitched in and played when needed (there was a surplus of drummers, a shortage of bass players).

In just five days, the groups had to pick a name, write a song, design a logo, print a T-shirt, poster and album cover, and practice, practice, practice for the concert that will eventually become a CD.

"Rock and roll is such an important part of their lives," marvels Ed Chabot, the camp's art teacher and part-time bass guitarist. "In a real band, it takes forever to do the things they get to do in a week. This gives them a chance to live their dream."

One among four

Towson is one of four sites across the country with a Dayjams camp this summer (along with Ann Arbor, Mich., White Plains, N.Y. and Alexandria, Va.). The National Guitar Workshop, a Lakeside, Conn.-based rock-and-roll camp for teens and adults, created Dayjams to reach a younger audience, says David Smolover, the company's founder and president.

"Most music camps are orchestral or concert band," says Smolover. "But this is such a kick for kids."

Part of the appeal is getting to be best-buds with hip musicians. How many of their parents sport shoulder length hair, wear Rage Against The Machine T-shirts to work, and use words like "grooving" and "man" (as in "man, you are grooving") without irony?

"Many of these kids never get to hang out with adults they see as cool," says Tobias Hurwitz, the Towson camp's director and guitarist. "This is their chance."

For members of Pink Street, that's meant spending time with Michael Raitzyk, a professional guitarist and music teacher from Charles Village who wears sandals, eyeglasses held together with cellophane tape, and about 3 days beard stubble to class.

His students love him for it.

"These kids are really happening," says Raitzyk. "I may not see them for the rest of my life, but you can bet they'll always remember what they did here."

Campers decide

Raitzyk, 36, plays bass for Pink Street, but has let his campers make all of the musical decisions for the group. Together, they have written lyrics, matched them to an original melody, and worked on a folk-rock sound for the group -- a kind of dissolute "Jefferson Airplane thing," says one member.

Zoe Balmuth, 10, of Lutherville, Pink Street's keyboard player, has chosen an organ-like mix that reinforces the band's '70s style. Chris Kiehne, 15, of Towson, a quiet, serious musician, is the group's gifted lead guitarist who only reluctantly agreed to perform the solo.

Both Zoe and Chris have parents who dabbled in garage rock bands themselves. As a teen, Marie Balmuth played guitar for a band in her native Sweden and once dreamed of being the next Abba.

"My daughter came home and said, `riff,' " says Balmuth "It was fun to hear her say that."

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