Local bands get a chance to shine

There’s a disease all parents worry their teenager will catch. Usually only the parents of boys have to worry about it, but it can strike girls, too.

It comes in many forms and under many names — Rockstar Fever, Musician Madness or simply “I Want to be in a Band” — and luckily is rarely fatal, but it almost always changes a child’s entire life.

Once afflicted, the victim loses interest in everything he liked before — sports, school and even video games — and instead spends all his free time in the basement, strumming a guitar or banging on drums.

He even stops hanging out with all his old friends, and gets a new circle of friends, all with the same disease.

Many parents consider the disease their worst nightmare and want their child cured right away, but some experts say this is a mistake. They say it isn’t a bad sickness but a good one, and instead of taking medication to kill the symptoms, infected kids should be given encouragement, support and plenty of outlets to let the disease flourish.

One of these so-called experts is Doc Welter, a biology teacher at South Kitsap High School, who remembers fondly his own past life in music and the positive influences that linger still.

Welter said he’s seen signs of the fever in the school’s halls for years, as he watched kid after kid lugging guitars on their backs or groups stopping suddenly to jam, but didn’t know how to help them until last year.

That’s when he got the idea for a special concert called “Battle of the Bands,” a fundraiser in which several of the students’ bands, usually toiling away in secret, could hit the high school stage and perform for everyone to see — and pay for.

Welter said it all began when he showed some sophomores a video he took of a similar music show he organized years ago in Montana, and they erupted in excitement, asking why they couldn’t do something like that at their school.

“And it kind of snowballed from there,” he said, explaining that there were some hurdles the snowball had to jump, however.

For all the unbridled enthusiasm the teens showed for the project, Welter said he knew there would be a lot less of it among the school officials.

“They were very hesitant,” he said, explaining that it took time and effort to convince the administrators to approve an event they said had “blown up in their faces” in the past.

“But I was persistent, and so were the kids,” he said. “We pledged that everything would be by the book and safety would come first, and finally they said, ‘OK, we’ll try it once, Doc. And if it turns out like you said, then we can talk about maybe having another one.’ ”

Proudly, Welter reports the kids behaved (and performed) beautifully at last year’s show, during which six bands played and more than 300 kids came to cheer them on.

“We had two police officers there to make sure everything went OK, and they left halfway through the show,” he said, adding that the officials who attended admitted it “wasn’t anything like they expected.”

Welter attributed most of the success to the responsible attitude of the kids, and how they took to heart his warnings that if that first concert did not go well, there would not be another one.

“I was honest with them,” he said. “I treated them like bands getting ready to perform at The Gorge. I told them what would fly and what wouldn’t, and I told them if I saw anything inappropriate, like nudity, swearing or anything like that, I would pull them off the stage and that would be it.”

Even now, a week before the second concert, Welter still couldn’t be happier that the first went so well, and that he is in the final stages of putting on the second, although he admittedly is stretched a little thin.

It’s hard enough keeping 25 teenagers on track, let alone worrying about making sure there are enough posters, tickets, microphones and stagehands for the show. But one look at Welter’s face, and you know he believes the concert is worth every stressful second of preparation.

“This provides an important avenue for these kids. You know, these are not kids that necessarily get all that enthusiastic about academics, but this is something they can get enthusiastic about, and that should be encouraged,” he said.

For at least one of the bands, Lithium Child, the concert inspired more than just extra practices — it inspired the students to “get serious” with their jamming sessions and form an actual band.

Senior Jack Wilson is 18 and the generally accepted leader of the four-man band. He said before he and bassist Jon Balogh went to last year’s concert, they had been “jamming together for years,” but hadn’t gotten around to forming a band.

Getting the idea was the easy part, however, Wilson said. What was hard was finding the other members, including a drummer he “liked enough to be in my band.”

Another problem was finding people who liked the type of music he wanted to play, which he said was a hard-to-describe mix of jazz, funk and other “non-pop” styles.

“It’s really easy to find people who want to play punk, because lots of people like that,” he said, explaining that he was glad to finally find drummer Steve Dombrosku, also 18 and a senior, and saxophone player Muhammad Hashim, the only junior at 17.

While Balogh, the oldest at 19, technically graduated from SKHS last year, Welter said his only requirement for each band is that at least one member be enrolled at the school.

To choose who gets the chance to perform, Welter said he has each band submit a demo of its music, then he and his specially selected judges — himself, his wife and their friends, basically — pick the best six to be in the concert. After each band plays for 20 minutes, he said, the judges then pick an ultimate “winner.”

Welter said the winning band doesn’t have to play original music, but should be technically competent and have a sound you can imagine hearing on the radio.

“I tell my judges that the winning band should be the one they think can most benefit from a recording session,” Welter said, explaining that last year’s prize, and the one he hopes to offer again this year, was an eight-hour recording block at a local studio.

Welter said last year’s winner, Rhetoric, now has a CD for sale in local shops and is coming back for another battle, since they were picked to compete again next week.

As for Lithium Child, Wilson said he’s not focused on winning, and was still amazed and happy that his band was selected to perform.

“I can’t believe we got picked,” he said, explaining that the band did everything so last-minute there weren’t even lyrics for the songs on their demo, and he sang for the very first time to make it.

“We ended up recording it on my computer with this cheap little microphone that was half broken,” he said. “But it worked.”

Wilson said his band had never performed before an audience, and the only prize he wanted was to go on stage and pull off a good show.

“Let the other bands that have been around longer and really working on it, let them have it,” he said, referring to the studio time. “I mean, eight hours. We only have two and a half songs. I don’t know what we’d do with all that time.”

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