Both John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix were about 15 when they got their first guitars. Kurt Cobain was 14. Judging by the budding underage music scene in Tampa Bay, another youthful generation is primed to follow suit.
Patel Conservatory Rock School instructors and professional musicians Dean Tidey and Paul Stoddart get partial credit. “It’s no different than producing a band,” Tidey says. “They’re just younger.”
He explains that rock school programs offer a taste of what it’s really like to be in a band. “There are lots of kids that play the guitar or the drums but it’s difficult for them to find other people their own age to play with,” he adds.
Matt Weihmuller, who teaches jazz at Patel, has noticed a rise in young musicians over the last few years. He thinks it’s because there are more outlets for both learning and performing. The highly successful Patel Conservatory Jazz Quartet is a prime example.
Weihmuller began teaching music fresh out of college. He felt it was the only way to keep jazz alive. “We can’t continue to have good musicians unless we have good teachers,” he rationalizes. “The hope is that someday these kids will be out there performing just like I am, maybe even on the same stage.”
According to Weihmuller, the most serious students have the ability to listen to and understand what they’re being taught, and are willing to invest time into studying music. For Stoddart, measuring a student’s potential is simpler. “If they have more than one guitar, they’re probably serious.”
Most of the students these Straz instructors see are “total beginners” and even prodigies like Parker Wilkson — who started playing piano at 3 — benefit from some help. Before attending Patel, Wilkson had never sung in public. “The prospect absolutely terrified me,” he admits. But his instructor at the time encouraged him to join a band looking for a singer, and Wilkson went for it. When he sang on stage for the first time, it changed his life.
Now, 15-year-old Wilkson is the rhythm guitarist, keyboardist and singer for indie alt-rock band The Infinite Eights (formerly Nfin8). He met youthful bandmates Davin Norman (bass, vocals) and Matt Sichterman (guitar, vocals) at Patel. They’re currently recording original music in a home studio and have been playing local restaurants and open mic nights to perfect their live sound. “Patel has given us the skills and inspiration to go be better musicians and better people,” Wilkson says. “They’ve shown us that if you put forth the hard work and dedication, you can make it in the music business … which isn’t an easy thing to do.”
Another noteworthy Patel brood, The Hanging Chads, has performed more than 30 gigs around the Bay area in the two years since the band was started by 11-year-old students Lars Tatum (lead guitar/vocals) and Connor Fass (drums). Now joined by 15-year-old rhythm guitarist/lead vocalist Darienne Bartsh and 16-year-old bassist Alex Supkay, The Hanging Chads have won multiple battle of the bands titles and recognition from local media for their fast, thrashing, classic rock-inspired sound and a live set that includes nine original songs.
Not all young talent, however, is the product of a music school.
Electric Landlady (formerly known as The Stereotypes) was formed in 2011 by three high school friends: 15-year-old Jonah Hollander (who’d been playing guitar since the third grade), bassist/singer Colin Mulligan (16) and drummer Michael Moody (17). Electric Landlady is currently filled out by alto sax player Julia Scheiber (17), baritone/tenor sax player Bob Stuelke (16), and Hollander’s former guitar teacher Mike Martin on axe and vocals.
Despite their proven dedication and abilities, underage bands aren’t always taken seriously by audiences or even their showmates. “It’s difficult. Sometimes you get underrated,” says Hollander, explaining that most bands write them off as “little kids” — that is, until they hear them play. Being underage also makes booking shows a challenge, though Electric Landlady has managed to squeak by at some well-known 21-plus St. Pete watering holes.
Though their styles, abilities and ages vary, all of these youthful musicians have one thing in common — the heartfelt desire to share their music with others. So long as they have some kind of support system — whether it be guitar legend instructors or just proud parents — they’ve all got a chance at making their mark.
Bands to Watch: Sound Parlor, The Hanging Chads, Nfin8, The Garbage Men, Stix of Fire, Jazz Juvenocracy, The Patel Conservatory Jazz Quartet, Electric Landlady, The Macy Kate Band
Upcoming Shows: The Hanging Chads EP Release Party, Sept. 14, Market on 7th, Ybor City; Ska Homecoming featuring Electric Landlady & many others, Sept. 28, Epic Problem, Tampa; and The Garbage Men, Saturdays at the Beach Bazaar, Siesta Key Village, Siesta Key.
Look for more profiles of up-and-coming young artists in our Fall Arts Preview issue, available Aug. 29, which will feature 25 artists under the age of 25 that you need to get to know now — before they change the world.