Summer’s Here, and the Time Is Right

Rock camps: open!

Loose Cannons
Loose Cannons

It’s summer and the music camps are open. All around the city, kids are hauling their guitars, drumsticks, keyboards and microphones to places like Natural Ear, the Austin School of Music, Girls Rock Camp Austin, Paul Green’s School of Rock, and about a half-dozen other places where the under-18 set plugs in.

Forget about the turf wars and claims of who got there first. (School of Rock claims to be the first in 1998 but Natural Ear didn’t need a Jack Black movie when they started here in 1991.) The proliferation of these camps is providing Austin with a new generation of musicians who are smart and well-prepared. This isn’t just guitar lessons or perfecting that “Stairway to Heaven” lick – these kids are coming out the camps understanding the dynamic of playing in groups, and maybe desiring to play solo. Though each of the camps has a different philosophy, they all present rock & roll as a blank slate for teens and pre-teens to color in their own style.

The aren’t-they-adorable aspect drops off quickly when a band like the Loose Cannons blasts through “You’re Gonna Miss Me." Loose Cannons has kept the same core players (Daniel Klasson and Sammy Ivester) since forming at Natural Ear while adding new players (Ace Furman, Jake Mente, Ross Blake). Their new self-titled EP gathers favorites from the 1950s ("Johnny B. Goode") and 1960s ("Treat Her Right," "We're an American Band"), and delivers the songs with power and panache.

The difficulty with these bands is that they often implode, just like adult bands, only more often. Then they’ll break away from each other and form spinoff groups, like the Fire Ants did when they left the reigning teen band Jenny Wolfe & the Pack.

The oh-so-up-and-coming Blues Mafia is on the edge of saying goodbye to adolescence and hello to the major leagues. These Austin School of Music grads boast well-schooled musicians like guitarists Max Frost and Patrick Mertens, bassist Kai Roach, and drummer Chris Copeland, but their calling card is vocalist Sasha Ortiz, daughter of Austin musical mainstay Natalie Zoe. Her voice is commanding, soaring, sultry, and strong beyond her 20 years. Close your eyes and listen: nothing about their rootsy blues-rock sound suggests anything but dedication and professionalism. As easy to watch as she is to hear, Ortiz ought to be snapped up by the Antone’s stable, but she’s doing fine where she is.

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Rock camps, Loose Cannons, Blues Mafia, the Fire Ants

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