With a whirl of the Groove Wheel, a rotating rainbow of magnified droplets illuminates the backboard in Baltimore Hebrew Congregation's school gym. On stage below, the Flying Eyes tear into an ear-splitting set. As if channeling Jefferson Airplane, this band of confident teenagers has captured a 1960s psychedelic sound with uncanny ease.
Fans surge to the front, turn airy pirouettes and twist their arms to the spacy jams. One sweaty young man leaps on stage and does an undulating, double-jointed dance.
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An article about teenagers and bands in Sunday's Modern Life section incorrectly identified the Carver Center for Arts and Technology.
The Sun regrets the errors.
Standing in the same space where she dodged balls as a young girl, vocalist Allison Weiner, with her flowing madras patchwork skirt, iron-straight hair and knitted cap, is the picture of 21st-century flower power.
This is what she has wanted to do all of her life, the 19-year old pet groomer later says: to feel the rush, to have "everyone screaming at you."
As rising numbers of teens share Weiner's dream, a youthful music scene has sprouted in Baltimore. In the past 10 years, dozens -- if not hundreds -- of rock bands have emerged from Baltimore-area garages, basements and attics to perform in battle-of-the-band showcases at schools, churches and synagogues.
In ways that their counterparts in the 1950s and '60s could never have imagined, it's a fine time to be part of a garage band. With the advantages of digital technology, access to professional venues, and support from baby boomer parents, today's young rockers can strut their stuff like big time bands.
The term "garage band" doesn't really apply any- more. Today, bands tend to start life at a far more sophisticated level than the amateur musicians of yore who were largely confined to the family garage. Back then, most kids made do with guitars, amps and drums. Today's bands are fully wired, down and uploaded, synthesized, and equipped with GarageBand, Apple Computer software for creating music on a Mac.
Forget the garage or the backyard rock fest. Now, groups hustle for gigs at Towson's Recher Theatre and Moose Lodge, and the Ottobar, True Vine record shop and Charm City Art Space in Baltimore. At these and other venues, an under-21 crowd listens to homegrown emo, reggae, rock, blues, rap, new wave, funk, punk, pop punk, folk rock and sound fusions not yet christened.
The best of the new groups take the stage with polished production values and startling maturity. They've done their homework, too, absorbing hippie ideals and disillusions from Woodstock and other rock documentaries. They've got Cream's lyrics down pat and are as fluent in the Byrds and Jimi Hendrix as they are in the White Stripes and Flaming Lips.
More than a few of those early garage bands had a hit or two. "Little Steven's Underground Garage," the weekly radio program for which the E-Street Band's Steven Van Zandt is host, features a wealth of gritty songs that have climbed the charts over the years. But today, star turns arrive quickly and frequently within a local universe.
Boasting promotional skills as finely tuned as their music, young artists establish a public presence by uploading their music files to myspace.com. There, visitors may admire artsy band photos and bios that read like slick liner notes. At concerts and online, some performers hawk branded T-shirts, caps and other merchandise and pass out business cards.
Groups also circulate their music by recording CDs, a breeze compared with the unwieldy process of recording on vinyl or tape. "If you just take two or three days to do a recording and two or three days to do the packaging, you can burn 100 copies of a CD and sell them at shows," says Ian Nagoski, co-manager of True Vine Records, a shop in Hampden catering to eclectic and vintage tastes. Like their professional role models, kids pitch their CDs at concerts or outlets such as True Vine. If asked politely, their mothers hand-deliver demo CDs to radio stations for them.
Bands, as well, have more opportunities to play on a professional stage at "local spotlight" nights around the city. Performers typically earn their keep selling $5 tickets and often take home a handsome sum after settling with the club. This system gives bands that are willing to peddle tickets a chance to perform in houses where in the past, they'd never have been booked.
'I'm with the band'
A calendar brimming with local shows has become the catalyst for a mobile network of supportive friends, and friends of friends who follow favorite bands on the concert circuit. You may not be in a band, but chances are you know someone who is in a band and your social plans are made in lock step with that band's itinerary.
"I don't know what I'd be doing if I wasn't in a band," says Mac Hewitt, 17-year-old bass player for the Flying Eyes. When he's not performing, the Carver Vo-Tech junior attends shows by other bands.