Bringing Woodstock To Life Again With Kids

Rock Campers To Put On Anniversary Tribute Saturday

August 13, 2009|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

Woodstock happened a full quarter-century before most of these kids were born.

Doesn't matter. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who, the Grateful Dead - they all speak just as loudly to these kids as they did to their parents and grandparents a generation ago.

Saturday afternoon, outdoors at the PowerPlant Live! Festival Stage near the Inner Harbor, some two dozen guys and gals from the Baltimore branch of the Paul Green School of Rock, ages 7 to 17, will put on their own tribute to the good vibes and great chords that marked the original Woodstock music festival. With a set list including everything from the Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" to Sly and the Family Stone's "Stand!" this group of neophyte rockers can't wait to invoke the spirits of the rock giants that preceded them.

"My dad was actually at Woodstock," says guitarist Sebastian Steele, 15. "He was 6 years old, but he was there with his grandmother." Lucky kid, to have had grandparents hip enough to brave upstate New York that epochal August weekend back in 1969.

"I'm really jealous of the people that were there," says 14-year-old Dan Halpren, a drummer whose tastes run more toward the funk-rock of bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but whose respect for the sound of the Woodstock generation is growing steadily. "It's great stuff. I listen to my dad's 'Woodstock' album a lot."

These teens have a clear reverence for the music, as was clear during rehearsals Wednesday, but they're not intimidated by it. With gusto, they take on songs originally performed by Hendrix ("Foxy Lady"), Joplin ("Try [Just a Little Bit Harder]") and Johnny Winter ("Mama, Talk to Your Daughter"). The results might not always be a faithful representation: The pace of "Try" is just too slow for most modern-rock ears, apparently, while Hendrix's off-handedly seductive phrasing on "Foxy Lady" has eluded far more experienced singers.

"It won't exactly be Woodstock," says Len Sitnick, general manager of the Baltimore branch of School of Rock, one of some 35 schools nationwide. For one thing, he notes, there won't be an audience of hundreds of thousands, and there will be plenty of bathroom facilities available.

"But these kids," he promises, "are all players." Some are new to the school, having enrolled specifically for the two-week Woodstock camp that ends with Saturday's performance. Others have been cherry-picked from previous sessions, and have been honing their skills inside the school's Cold Spring Lane building for months, if not years. The groupings that take to the stage Saturday, whether they be doing the songs of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (who were playing one of their first gigs at the original Woodstock) or Santana, will be a mix of veterans and newcomers.

Guitarist Jordan Williams, for instance, is a School of Rock veteran. He's got some of Hendrix's classic guitar licks down, but admits that, when it comes to performing, "I'm trying to get the stage presence."

Sitnick knows his young players have a lot to live up to, and he's not expecting miracles. But he's not above making the kids work hard, urging them to listen to the original songs again and again, to get a feel for the music that goes beyond simply knowing the notes and remembering the lyrics.

"You guys need to be listening to the song a lot, feel how laid-back it is," he tells a group that has just accelerated the tempo of "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)" by about a third. "This is a really, really funky song, and you guys have been going 85 miles per hour in a 40 mile-per-hour zone."

And so the group, which includes Sitnick's 13-year-old daughter, Noel, on bass and 15-year-old Jack Averill on vocals, gives it another shot. They still pump it out a little too fast, and Averill's onstage gyrations are more reminiscent of James Brown than Joplin. But there are plenty of smiles and high-fives when they're done, and no one's all that upset when Sitnick asks them to try yet again, slower.

"You know, it's sort of a sad thing," Dan Halpren says during a break in the rehearsal. "I really didn't know these bands before. But after this camp, I'm definitely more into their music now. And that's cool."

If you go

A Woodstock Tribute Concert, featuring students from the Baltimore branch of the Paul Green School of Rock, is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at the PowerPlant Live! Festival Stage, 614 Water St. Free. Call 410-366-7625 or go to schoolofrock.com.

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