Bands play on at annual RHHStival

Music event at River Hill High is showcase for young musicians

January 19, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the Sun

For two years, Long Reach senior Alisha Strawbridge has been serving as manager of the band If Alaska, started by friends at Oakland Mills High School.

"They formed a band, and I was just like, `Hey, you know, I'll help you out with everything,'" she said.

She describes the music as "rock, kind of alternative, sort of Indie" and has succeeded in booking shows for If Alaska at Fletchers in Baltimore, The Other Barn in Columbia and a Washington venue called Nation.

But her biggest coup might be in helping the band win a spot at the annual River Hill High School music event called RHHStival. "I was like, `You guys really need to get into this. It's a great opportunity. You really need to go.'"

Since its beginning in 1999, RHHStival has grown to be a serious showcase for young musicians in Howard County. The school's music director, Joseph Fischer, said he has seen interest escalate in the four years since he arrived at the school.

"The first year, I received like eight or nine CDs, as far as people wanting to get in," he said. "This past year there were over 25."

Of those, he selected 11 bands -- all with at least one member in a local high school -- to perform tomorrow night at River Hill.

Strawbridge checked River Hill's Web site regularly to see when applications were being accepted and rejoiced when the band -- keyboarder Jon Ambas, lead guitarist Scott Bacon, drummer Daniel Johnston, vocalist Easton Coffee, guitarist Justin Cianciolo and bass guitarist Cory Zanker -- made the cut.

"The music scene has gotten really popular lately," Strawbridge said. "There are so many local bands around. It's getting harder and harder to get shows."

And a performance at the RHHStival has become an important steppingstone for local bands. "I would say definitely there has been the concept that this is the launching ground for other opportunities in the area," Fischer said.

"This is probably, I would say, the biggest thing you can do in Howard County as a high school band," said Charlie Anderson, 16, lead guitarist for the Ressed, which he described as a "mix of classic rock with some grunge, with some alternative."

Anderson, a sophomore at Wilde Lake High, formed the band last year after a friend, Devon Litz, got a drum set. The Ressed includes the two of them as well as Ben Krupsaw, the vocalist, Aaron Sachs on bass and Nick Butler on rhythm guitar.

The group was so serious about getting into RHHStival that its members hand-delivered their compact disc to Fischer, Anderson said. "I think it's a lot safer than mailing," he said.

Many of the bands that will perform tomorrow are well-known locally, having played at the Lakeside Coffee and Cafe in Columbia, Fletchers or the Recher Theatre in Towson. Most have written their songs, cut their CDs and sold their T-shirts.

But a spot at RHHStival can lead to bigger things. "A lot of bands that play seem to get to do more stuff afterward," said Patrick Pinto, a River Hill junior who plays bass and guitar for Maverick, a group he describes as "pretty much rock 'n' roll, but we're blending new rock with older styles."

Pinto said he and the other band members -- Eric Everett on vocals, Shane Hinkle on guitar and John Davis on drums -- take their music "very seriously" and practice five or six days a week in Everett's basement. He likes that the RHHStival draws its audience from all over the county.

Fischer said he favors bands that compose their music, and he listens for general skill. "Does the band sing in tune? Do they play in time?" He works to select a range of sounds and to include bands from a variety of high schools.

Fischer said he always offers to work with bands that didn't make the cut, helping them improve for the next year. Several bands have been accepted after an initial rejection because of those meetings, he said.

As in the past, most of the bands are rockers, and the majority of the performers are male. But the festival is open to all kinds of music, including jazz, blues and bluegrass, Fischer said.

Casey Phillips, a sophomore at Glenelg High School, provides guitar and backing vocals for a group called Stock Car Syndrome. Though the band was formed five years ago, has put out two CDs, and has performed at Fletchers and Recher, Phillips said the high school festival is a great way to "get as exposed as possible."

"We really tried hard to make sure we got in to play this year," Phillips said. The other band members are Glenelg sophomore Sam Everett, guitarist and lead vocalist; Glenelg sophomore James Ennis, drummer; and Marriotts Ridge sophomore Josh Morrison, the bass player.

Phillips also likes the show because it is a great way to meet fellow musicians.

"I see it as a way to expose young talent, but also kind of show you what people at other schools are doing," he said.


Where -- River Hill High School, 12101 Route 108, Clarksville

When: tomorrow; doors open at 5:30 p.m., and performances continue until 11 p.m.

Performers -- Timmy Han, the Coral Bay Band, Stock Car Syndrome, Morning After, If Alaska, Maverick, Combat Funk, the Ressed, This Lonely Stereo, Promise and Victory by Revenge.

Cost -- $10 at door. All ages are welcome, but youngsters not in high school must be accompanied by an adult. Anyone leaving the building will have to pay to go back in.

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