The Kids Are All Right
Reach a certain age, and fireworks shows
are a completely different experience. I find
that I enjoy watching my kids’ faces light
up instead of the sky that everyone else is
turned toward. Sure, there’s something magically irresistible about seeing those fire-like
streaks and glittery blasts a couple thousand
feet in the air. But for me, my 7- and 11-year
old daughters’ genuine expressions of
amazement in the soft glow of the pyrotechnics is much more enjoyable to watch. Their
eyes get big . . . there’s that squint before
the boom . . . and then those massive smiles
explode from ear to ear, prompting oohs,
ahhhs, and laughter. If you’ve never looked at
your kid’s face during a firework show, try it.
They’re right there. I highly recommend it.
Similarly, I’ve started realizing what else is
going on when it comes to playing gigs and
doing what we gearheads do. If you’re like
me, you jam with your buds, you put together
bands to play here and there, maybe sit in
the pit at your church’s Sunday service, and,
of course, you tinker with a lot of gear. Or
heck, maybe you’re a pro who plays full-time.
Well, take a look around. There are kids there,
somewhere, who are interested in what you
do. Maybe they’re hanging around hoping
to get a free pick after a gig. Maybe they’re
asking their parents if they can sit in one of
the pews toward the front so they can check
out the musicians. Maybe they’re at that age
where it’s cool to look disinterested, but you
can still tell they’re watching your left hand
during the chord changes and craning their
necks a bit to see what’s on your pedalboard.
Sure, playing is fun and there’s a certain
amount of focus you need to have in order to
have your rig set up right and your head in the
music, but I challenge you to seek out a kid
who’s interested in what you’re doing. They’re
there. And you might be surprised at just how
enjoyable it is to turn your focus toward them.
A while back, I found myself stoked to hear
some slightly out-of-tune Skynyrd coming
from an open garage in the neighborhood. I
wanted to run in there and high-five whoever
it was, give ’em a rah-rah speech about practicing every day, and see if they needed any
Joe Coffey and Sparrow—(left to right) Aaron Bissell, Wyatt Forester,
and Robbie Gearhart
help with anything. A cooler head prevailed,
though. Like some kid trying to learn “Sweet
Home Alabama” needs a weird dude busting
into his garage. I probably would’ve ended
up getting Tased by the cops.
Some months went by. Every now and then,
I’d hear some Beatles coming from that
garage. Then I’d hear some BTO and Blue
Öyster Cult. The playing kept getting better, too. Eventually, the parents gave me
the skinny. The band was made up of some
13- and 14-year-olds. Some of the kids were
already jamming with multiple groups. I took
my bandmates over there one night, at a
parent’s request, so we could hear a few
songs and give them some pointers. They
looked scared to death but made their way
through “Twist and Shout” and “Takin’ Care
of Business.” I found myself rooting for them,
hoping they could avoid the inevitable band
drama that knows no age limits and maybe
see them in front of a crowd one day. Then it
hit me—why not let these cats open for my
band? We had a town-square gig coming up.
Here in the Midwest, a lot of communities
have some kind of weekly bandstand thing
that goes on throughout the summer. Why
not lobby the local Chamber of Commerce in
charge of organizing it to see if it’d be okay
for these kids to do a couple of songs?
The chamber was cool. The event’s main
sponsor, a local air-conditioning company,
was cool. It was that easy. The kids, who
call themselves Sparrow, hit the woodshed.
They would be allowed to play two songs
at the gig, so they chose “Twist and Shout”
and “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” One guitarist
couldn’t get out of a mandatory show-choir
practice and had to miss the gig, which I
thought was ridiculous. The kid had a gig
for cryin’ out loud. The show-choir director
should’ve given him bonus points! Anyway,
the eligible young lads performed as a trio,
using our backline and drums in order make
things easier. I helped them through mic
check and got a kick out of their bewilder-
ment with the setup. The sound engineer out
by the board was talking to them through
the wedges and that threw them off at first.
When I explained who the voice belonged to
and that the crowd couldn’t hear the engineer
through the FOH speakers, all three of them
went, “Whooah! That’s awesome!” in unison.
The two songs went swimmingly. Lead singer
Robbie Gearhardt even worked the crowd a
bit, telling them “I better see some dancing
out there,” before launching into “Twist and
Shout” with his Ibanez Artcore hollowbody.
A very appreciative crowd showed Sparrow a
lot of love. The guys looked somewhat deer-in-the-headlights-ish during the whole thing—
you could tell they were just trying to take it
all in. There they were—onstage and rocking
in front of a few hundred people.
Now, I’ve seen a lot of acts. I’ve had my mind
blown and my face melted, as I’m sure you
have, too. However, I don’t think I’ve enjoyed
a gig this much, and certainly not in this way,
ever before. My own first big gig is something I’ll never forget, so it was very cool to
play a role in helping make that happen for
someone else. If you’ve never done something for a young musician before—try it.
They’re right there. I highly recommend it.