SchoolJam Daze

Teen bands take home awards

The Fireants
The Fireants (by Shelley Hiam)

The third time "Yellow Submarine" played between sets, it started to get old, but the live music last Saturday afternoon at the Parish did not. It was the SchoolJam Texas finals, sponsored by NAMM, and it ROCKED.

Okay, it did a little more than that when Arlington’s tenpiece El Mariachi Tejano de Sam Houston performed a glorious medley of tunes that saw Gregorio Chavez walk away with Best Vocalist and trumpeter/singer Marissa Ocampo win the Judges’ Prize for her terrific turn at the microphone.

No surprise that Austin’s Carson Brock Group took first place: the youthful bluesman Carson is the son of Kyle Brock, Eric Johnson’s longtime bassist. Drummer Victor Ziolkowski won Best Drummer, no surprise there either as his father is Chaparral bassist Vic Gerard, another scene veteran. Victor was not only a four-time winner of Best Teen Band at the Austin Music Awards, playing for Misspent Youth, he also drums for the red-hot Fireants and with adult bands such as 3 Balls of Fire. And if the trio’s bassist Jacob Draper doesn’t have that sort of bloodline, he’s still a monster on bass, matching Carson’s whiz-kid lead guitar and Victor’s tough bottom for style and confidence.

Edison Chair came in a close second, hampered by technical difficulties that flustered them a tad but did nothing to diminish their sharp, virtually ready-for-radio indie pop-rock. Bassist Martin Akers also won Best Bassist. The trio hails from Dripping Springs and Austin and here’s the word: these guys are here to stay and play. They drove in from Drippings Springs last month to attend the Teen Music Texas forum, and participated throughout the entire event, engaging speakers in discussion, asking questions, and sticking around afterward to talk people up. Smart boys!

I wanted to tell Plano’s While the World Sleeps to leave the jackets on. They looked stylish but when they took the jackets off to reveal plain colored t-shirts, they looked like high school kids. Which they are, of course, but the point is that image counts. They were also the first band up, always a hard slot, but they knocked out a fine classic rock-influenced set.

Blankberry grabbed the Best Guitarist award with a bounce-off-the-walls set that closed the competition. The foursome from Nederland (whose names I don’t remember) boasted an energetic frontman and solid, well-rehearsed sound. Vidor’s the Standing boasted a secret weapon in a female drummer who almost went unnoticed until she stepped to the mic and opened her mouth. The band already featured a young woman on rhythm guitar; I wanted the girls to get another drummer and sing together a la Heart. They both carried themselves and the band’s clean, edgy music with aplomb.

White Denim kept the crowd busy while we judges – oops, did I not say I was a judge? – tallied scores. It was genuinely tough to choose the winners and in that corny-but-true way, they really were all winners. I wouldn’t have imagined that Vidor or Nederland could produce young bands the caliber of the Standing and Blankberry, nor would I have guessed that the Metroplex cultivated teen talent as diverse as While the World Sleeps and El Mariachi Tejano de Sam Houston. In Austin, I do expect bands the caliber of Carson Brock Group and Edison Chair.

Wanna catch some of this talent? Saturday night at Jovita’s, the Fireants open for Blues Mafia, which is celebrating the release of its first full-length, On the Shoulders of Giants. Blues Mafia straddles the definition of a teen band, as singer Sasha Zoe Ortiz is 21 while guitarist Max Frost is 16, but they have a firm grasp on blues-rock. Sasha is still collecting raves for her performance at the Victory Grill’s recent tribute to Nina Simone; she and the band will be receiving more when this LP gets around.

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