There’s no Jack Black character bouncing around the room riffing about rock and urging the students to “stick it to the man.” And no unsuspecting principal about to learn the truth and ruin their upcoming gig.
In fact, in this tucked-away music space in Sugar House called MusicGarage, the students’ parents are listening just outside the studio, beaming as their kids audition while playing “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” by Jet and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
This is a real version of the movie and Broadway musical “School of Rock.” The play — on stage May 28-June 2 at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City — features Draper’s Blake Ryan. The 12-year-old is a swing performer who steps onto the stage as needed; he’s the understudy for five characters, thanks to his skills with the piano, harmonica, guitar, ukulele and drums.
The musical, based on the 2003 Jack Black movie, follows a teacher who turns a group of students into a “guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band.”
Which is kind of what MusicGarage and similar School of Rock-like studios do.
“The idea is to shock the community, to go out there and rock people’s butts, to have little kids say, ‘I wanna do this,’” says Steve Auerbach, executive director of MusicGarage. “It’s like this virus of musical love that grows in kids.”
MusicGarage has been spreading the musical bug for a decade through a program that can train teens to play instruments on their own, then with other students. Those with the desire and talent can try out to perform.
That’s what a group of teens were doing on a recent Monday. The best will be chosen to be in the Festival Band, which will practice all summer together and premier at the Park City Arts Festival Aug. 4.
They will become fast friends. They will become inspired by — not jealous of — their more talented bandmates. They will learn to rock, but not be narcissistic (the studio rewards a selfless player each season), Auerbach says.
If all goes well, they will be majestic. “We’re not about ... cute. We want [the audience] to say, ‘Who’s that band performing Led Zeppelin?”
Here are three students who’ve made the band:
Connor Bliss: ‘I couldn’t stop’
Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and that scene in “Back to the Future” where Marty McFly stuns the crowd playing “Johnny B. Goode” got Bliss, a 17-year-old Lehi High School student, to pick up the guitar. Once he got an electric one about three years ago, he’s never looked back. “I couldn’t stop if I wanted to,” he says. “There’s something really cool about creating music. There’s nothing like it.”
He started playing with MusicGarage last summer, performing for the first time at Pat’s BBQ in Salt Lake City. He felt like a rock star. And his mother, Marci Bliss, says he looked like one.
“He’s always been a quiet kid. I didn’t know he had the performer in him. He got up on that stage and all of a sudden he was this rock star. ... He was doing his foot pedals and smiling and bobbing his head back and forth. I [couldn’t] stop grinning.”
He’s excited to get back on stage this summer, knowing that he’ll be performing with like-minded teens who take their music seriously. He recalls playing Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean” at a show and the moment he and the drummer, Miles Buchmann, looked at each other at the end of Miles’ improvised drum solo.
Connor lifted up his guitar and jumped — the classic rock move — ending on a ringing chord. “When everyone gets tight with each other and can read each other and play well, it’s a really cool feeling,” Connor says.
Connor even got to play “Johnny B. Goode” after a director at MusicGarage heard him and some others playing it for fun. Connor says he stepped up to the mic and said, “This is an oldie. Well, it’s an oldie where I come from.”
Tallulah Schweitz: ‘Always cheers me up’
An “amazing” music teacher at her middle school — which is focused on science, technology, engineering and math — inspired this 16-year-old Skyline High School student to want to play guitar.
“He just gave off [a vibe] that he was a really happy person that played music. I noticed when I played music it made me really happy. Ever since then, it’s been something I turn to that always cheers me up.”
She formed an all-girl band — with Schweitz on guitar and vocals — and performed at school talent shows. When she played “Riptide” by Vance Joy for her first performance, she watched as the audience’s faces lit up. “If people are feeling the music, it feels like you’re playing with a whole crowd of people, not just your band.”
Her mother, Liza Schweitz, had seen MusicGarage perform in the community last summer and encouraged her daughter to join this year. “They show us and themselves what we are capable of, when we put time into our passions and work with similarly impassioned people,” Liza Schweitz says.
Tallulah auditioned to play bass, hoping that will allow her to sing more in the MusicGarage band. She’s never played in a big venue to a big crowd, but the basketball and tennis player is not worried.
“I just want to play. I’m just going to play my heart out and see where I go.”
Miles Buchmann: ‘Backbone of the music’
The 15-year-old Skyline High student is itching to perform. It’s been about six months since he was on stage with MusicGarage and the drummer can’t wait to get back.
Buchmann has been playing music since he was 4 or 5 years old. He showed enough talent on the piano that his parents enrolled him at the University of Utah Preparatory Division.
He was listening to Franz Ferdinand, Van Halen, Rush and moe. when he decided he wanted to play the drums.
“I kind of like just being the backbone of the music. ... I kind of enjoy that role. I enjoy kind of being able to like lift up people and to be able to let them shine,” he says.
He was trained in classical music, but when he tried out for MusicGarage a couple of years ago, he played “Back in Black.” “All these older kids were like, ‘Oh my God,’” recalls his mother, Anne Naumer. “It was one of those times as a parent where we just got goosebumps because it was so clearly where he belonged.”
He remembers his first gig at Pat’s BBQ when he was 12. He knows the audience thought they were just “cute,” and their voices were high. Today, he says, he has more stage presence and shows just how much he enjoys it.
“It’s just exhilarating. Just getting to be like the cool guy. You get to kind of be the center of attention and like you give energy to people,” he says.
Meet The Rockees
Other rockers get their start jamming on their own after school — where The Rockees, who recently beat out groups from 10 other schools to win the Utah PTA “Battle of the Bands,” trace their origin.
The five Woods Cross teenagers have played music together since they were in junior high, where they took band classes.
Their name is a tribute to their intermountain roots and a nod to The Monkees, that famous TV copy of The Beatles. (In one of their numbers, they segue seamlessly from The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” to The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.”)
But they’ve only officially considered themselves a band for the last couple of months — since lead vocalist and guitarist Sam Phillips, 17, texted a photo of a poster about the PTA competition to bass player Carter Olsen. “I said, ‘We gotta do this,’” says Olsen, 16.
Their first performance was at the Woods Cross Battle of the Bands. They beat out the two other bands competing. That got them into the regional competition, where they placed second — good enough to qualify for the state competition in April.
“We decided that since we’re going to state, we should buckle down,” keyboardist Adam Leger says. They now all get together twice a week to practice.
His brother Zach, 15, is the drummer; Sam Phillips’ brother Isaac, 16, plays lead guitar. All of the boys attend Woods Cross High School, except Zach, who will start high school next fall.
Their music is mostly covers of 1960s and ‘80s music. The Legers’ dad, Andy, plays in a ’60s cover group, The Endless Summer Band.
At the state PTA competition, bands perform one cover and one original. The Rockees collaborated on writing “Come Along With Me,” and they picked The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” as their cover song. “We thought it would have a lot of crowd involvement,” Adam Leger says.
The Rockees have more gigs booked this summer: A school concert on May 29, called Woodstock, plus an Independence Day show on July 3 at the Eaglewood Golf Course in North Salt Lake, and another show in July.
Winning at the state level “was a big kickstart for us,” Sam Philips says. Adam Leger adds, “We gained a lot more confidence. I loved listening to all the other bands.”
The judges at the state competition gave the band plenty of positive feedback, Sam Phillips says. “One of the most important notes was to focus on the music,” he says, “not talking between songs.”
Tribune reporter Sean P. Means contributed to this report.
GOING TO THE ‘SCHOOL OF ROCK’
The musical, based on the hit film, features 14 new songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber and all the original songs from the movie, as a kids’ rock band plays their instruments live on stage. Blake Ryan, 12, from Draper, is the understudy for five characters; he’s expected to perform Friday and Saturday and may make other appearances.
Where • Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main St., Salt Lake City
When • May 28-June 2
Tickets • arttix.artsaltlake.org