One, Two, Tres, Cuatro: The Kids Really Are Alright
In with the new, out with 'someone's scary grandmother'
Who walked away from South by Southwest with the experience of their lives? I'm betting William Peeler did. That's William Peeler, age 11, from Palestine, Texas, as he introduced himself at the South Austin Popular Culture Center's booth at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar last December. And Roky Erickson's biggest fan.
That's a claim some might dispute, but William might be Roky's biggest fan at age 11. He and his 15-year-old brother, Alexander, showed up to Roky's Ice Cream Social at Threadgill's during SXSW courtesy of their grandmother, vinyl copies of the first two 13th Floor Elevators albums and Sharpies in hand. William was about to meet his hero.
In December, William was all chatter and slight disbelief. "You got any Roky Erickson?" He sized up the psychedelic posters in our booth as I showed him 13th Floor Elevators art and we got to talking. "You know Roky Erickson?" He grilled me about Roky and displayed a rather sophisticated level of music trivia: "You know that band Music Explosion?" The one that had a hit when I was your age? Where did you learn all this? I asked. "My dad," he shrugged. Kudos to you, Billy Peeler.
I enjoy engaging kids in conversation, but they don't snow me. Too many of them can't carry a simple conversation. But some of them – enough of them – are onto the cosmic giggle enough to know the world will be all right in the future.
That doesn't mean that every kid that picks up an instrument or steps to a microphone is brilliant. The ability of kids to imitate jaw-dropping guitar solos is nothing special. The most honest conversation I ever had about this was with Jimmie Vaughan, on a tour bus headed into Manhattan after a gig at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J., (see "All American," Nov. 23, 2001). The show included an appearance by preteen Randy Preston, the local blues wiz kid.
Wedged up front between the blues hawks, Randy didn't take his eyes off Vaughan or his guitar during the set. And you knew what was going to happen: He'd end up onstage before the night was over. Sure enough, he got Jimmie's guitar in the finale of "D/FW," showboating in his best Stevie Wayne Hendrix style because that's what he'd been prompted to do.
"Gimme back my guitar," barked Vaughan on the tour bus afterward, joking about the moment onstage. Vaughan knows all about the Randy Prestons of the world.
"They do a couple of blues albums and then go pop. Give me a break."
Jimmie wasn't being callous. You can say that about almost any band or artist – that they do a couple of albums and go pop. Randy Preston is still playing guitar, according to the Net, and the kid's all right, too, a smoking young guitar-slinger. Now as then, that puts him in a big pool of talent where the ability to stay afloat and ahead of the curve is as big a challenge as the artistic drive, not to mention creative output. It's like encouraging kids in acting and then seeing them get a chance on television and knowing it's often a bleak transition to adulthood if real fame enters the picture. Jimmie was just calling the reality shot.
Sometimes no good deed goes unpunished. James Mays learned a lot from his 2010 The Kids Are Alright Fest, an event that redefined "underattended," sadly, because it had some remarkable offerings – Warren Spector talking about Disney! Yet because his 2011 event at Mohawk bounced back so well, starting at noon this Saturday he'll host the fifth such fest at the Riverbend Centre. Mays, who runs the Band Aid School of Music, mixes such popular U-18 bands as AfterMath and the Austeens with headliners Quiet Company and Fresh Millions and adds skating and gaming competitions to benefit the Conscious Rider Center for Equine Therapy, which works with autistic children through horseback riding.
And summertime's near, as is camp season for many of the music schools. None have undergone a face-lift more than Natural Ear Music, the original music camp in town, founded by musician and current Liberty Hill Mayor Michele Murphy. Murphy sold it, and it's now owned and operated by John Moyer of Disturbed. This isn't a vanity project for Moyer; he's been teaching at the school for nearly a dozen years and takes great pride in the school's legacy.
Moyer has streamlined and updated the school's teaching methods while relying on kids' "natural ear" for music. Adding to his success in taking over the school, he's opening the newest location at Bandera Road City Church in San Antonio. That's a town with a deep love of hard rock, and Moyer's extensive background in bands such as Soak and the Union Underground as well as Disturbed means he brings serious mojo to the table for young bands like the Aviators.
There's a plethora of young local talent brewing well worth noting. AfterMath's Livvy Bennett first wrote about vocalist Grace London for the Chronicle in 2010. London went on to work with Residual Kid, then parted ways with them last fall. Residual Kid is thriving as a trio, glowing after four SXSW gigs and ready to play the Pecan Street Festival in May. Grace is celebrating the release of her EP Rocket Girl on Sunday, April 15, at Swift's Attic on Congress Avenue, 6pm.
This is a remarkable EP, which isn't just sugary praise for sensitive teen-girl lyrics. London comes from a tradition of music in Austin that's supported Sahara Smith and Sarah Jarosz, and it shows. With a canny turn of words amid simple melodies – Lucinda Williams and Eliza Gilkyson feel like her spiritual godmothers – London's right in line for their brand of attention, and that's all right, too. London, by the way, is 12.
I was buying candles in Planet K on South Lamar one day last fall because it carries the smoke-odor-exterminator candle in the refreshing orange-lemon splash fragrance that makes the visits of five dogs less canine in my home office. As I was testing the spray, I started chatting with one of the young clerks. I do that as a manner of defense, since whenever I enter Planet K I immediately identify myself as a member of the Popular Culture Center boards because otherwise I look like someone's scary grandmother. Scary is better than square, sez I.
The clerk turned out to be remarkably intelligent about music, and I dallied in conversation with him over the carved skull pipes. Not only was he predictably much more knowledgeable about contemporary music than I, he was also very interested in Texas vintage rock history, and we started talking San Antonio poster collecting. He also had a mustache that would need shaving very soon. Kevin Curtin is his name, and next week he starts his Music news column that "1, 2, Tres, Cuatro" refused to be.
"1, 2, Tres, Cuatro" isn't retiring, just moving from print to the Net where it replaces my old Girlie Action blog. I get to run more old photos and annoy those aging fortysomethings who never thought their hairlines would recede and hate it when I write about Christopher Cross.
As for William Peeler, age 11 from Palestine, Texas, here are some photos of him and Alexander with Roky Erickson on the Gibson bus, Friday, March 16. Those albums they're holding are the secret of rock & roll. The only thing "Slip Inside This House" doesn't tell you is to leave the doors and windows open.
Someone else might need to escape in.
William Peeler, The Kids Are Alright Fest, Natural Ear Music, Grace London, Roky Erickson, Jimmie Vaughan, James May, John Moyer, Warren Spector, Planet K, South Austin Popular Culture Center, Christopher Cross, Kevin Curtin