Rock's next generation

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Sydnee Stratman
Guitarist Sydnee Stratman is among 24 young musicians from the MacPhail Rock Week Summer Camp playing at First Avenue's 7th Street Entry.
MPR Photo/Karl Gehrke

Crammed together with guitars, amps, microphones and drums in a small classroom not much bigger than the average bedroom, a band of five young musicians works through an original song.

"It's a fun song to play and it accents everyone in the band," says bassist Taylor Labrush. "You can hear the guitar, vocal and drum parts, and there's a fun bass line too. It's pretty fun for everyone."

Learning to play together
In a small classroom, My Name is Not Andy rehearses an original song called Broken Ships, written by the group's drummer, Charlie Garatz.
MPR Photo/Karl Gehrke

Labrush is part of the brand new band My Name Is Not Andy. The group is one of five bands formed out of the 24 young musicians attending the MacPhail rock camp. The bands were put together by the camp's faculty, based primarily on the students' abilities and musical interests.

"We want to get creative kids together and give them a chance to find other people that think like them," says guitarist and camp coordinator Chris Osgood.

Back in the 1970s, Osgood played in the influential Twin Cities punk rock band Suicide Commandos. Three decades later, he's helping a new generation of aspiring rock musicians.

"Everybody is so talented and everybody really plays at a high level," says Osgood. "We don't have any rank beginners. We've got people that are already in bands or doing something, and this gives them a chance to get with other good, serious players their age."

Chris Osgood
Chris Osgood discusses the students' lyrics to their original songs. Back in the '70s, Osgood was the guitarist in the Twin Cities' original fast 'n' loud punk rock band, the Suicide Commandos.
MPR Photo/Karl Gehrke

Rock camps are nothing new, but they seem to have become more common since the 2003 movie, "School of Rock."

MacPhail's rock camp predates the movie by several years. It was started in 1998 by Osgood and keyboard player Chan Poling of The Suburbs, one of the most important bands of the thriving Twin Cities music scene of the '80s.

With the exception of a few clinics and presentations, Osgood, Poling and the rest of the camp faculty leave the musicians alone to work out their music for themselves behind classroom doors.

"We're in here for awhile just pounding out ideas and thinking out loud," says drummer Robbie Foster. "It's better when you can work by yourself and not have an adult tell you what to do."

Playing punk
Members of Half Past Now.
MPR Photo/Karl Gehrke

Foster is part of the newly formed punk rock band Half Past Now. The few times an adult needed to step in was on the first day, as the musicians were getting to know each other. Chan Poling says that's when he and the other teachers were needed to mediate disputes.

"When you're this age, you really define yourself by the music you listen to," says Poling. "So if you're a heavy metal guy or you're an emo girl, or if you're a jazz player or you're really into alternative or punk, that defines your boundaries."

Poling says sometimes those boundaries clashed, but by the third day all of the bands are well versed in the art of compromise and rarely need any help from the faculty.

Many of these students have their own bands. They say the MacPhail rock camp experience hasn't been too much different -- except for one important thing. It's giving each of them a chance to play a short set at First Avenue's 7th Street Entry in downtown Minneapolis.

Halle Gustafson
At the age of 13, My Name is Not Andy vocalist Halle Gustafson is the youngest musician in the MacPhail rock camp, and one of only three females.
MPR Photo/Karl Gehrke

It's an experience the members of My Name is Not Andy are looking forward to.

"There's not really a venue in the Twin Cities area that's more important than First Avenue," says bassist Taylor Labrush.

Guitarist Tony Stauber agrees.

"It's not often you get to play on the same stage as bands like Nirvana or Babes in Toyland," he says. Or, as vocalist Halle Gustafson points out, Prince. As a member of The Suburbs, Chan Poling also played at First Avenue during the club's heyday. The Suburbs even recorded a live reunion album in the venue.

Poling remains an active musician with his latest band, The New Standards. He says he's inspired each summer by the young musicians at MacPhail's rock camp.

Chan Poling
Keyboardist Chan Poling of the Suburbs and the New Standards says he's inspired by the young musicians at MacPhail's rock camp.
MPR Photo/Karl Gehrke

"Some people say I'm giving back to the community, and that's part of it. But it's more selfish than that because I really get something out of it too. I get re-energized by it," says Poling.

In the past nine years of the summer camp, most of the bands have gone their separate ways at the week's end, although there has been at least one exception. The band Melodious Owl got its start at MacPhail's rock camp and went on to play at several Twin Cities venues.

Organizers Chan Poling and Chris Osgood say creating the next rock phenomenon is not the goal of the camp. Instead, it's to stretch the abilities of young musicians and give them a taste of what it's like to be on stage at a legendary rock venue.