by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
During the URock band camp in 2012, the fourth year for the camp hosted by St. Francis Music Center in Little Falls, the band “Power Plant” was born. Unlike most of the other bands put together for the duration of the camp, the members live locally and continue to meet every Friday afternoon for instruction and practice.
“Since these kids are up here every week anyway for lessons, the band stayed together,” said instructor and coach Tony Armagost. “The band had a different drummer during camp, but this is the permanent lineup now.”
URock band camp is in its eighth year. During two weekends in July, middle school and high school students come together to learn more about being part of a band. Each band picks a name and songs they’d like to play.
The remainder of the camp is spent learning music and performance tips from skilled instructors, having band pictures taken and getting ready to perform in a concert which is held during the annual Green Fair sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters each August.
Lead guitarist for Power Plant is Zach Sobania, 10. Zach plays violin and takes piano lessons at the Center, while playing drums in school.
“I’ve been doing this my whole life and I finally have a guitar virtuoso,” said instructor Greg Langlois of Sobania’s talent.
Vocalist and guitarist Cary Armagost, 12, plays clarinet and takes guitar lessons at the Center. He plays drums in church.
Joey Blair, 11, stepped forward to play bass guitar during URock last summer, since that position was empty. He also plays guitar, a little bit of piano and some drums.
Logan Gerads, 12, is Power Plant’s drummer.
“This is the first band where we’ve been able to keep the thread moving ahead,” Langlois said. “They are amazing. It’s good having something for these kids to do. We give all credit to Robyn Gray of St. Francis Center, with some contribution from Jack Black and ‘School of Rock.’”
Langlois and Tony Armagost work to teach the boys showmanship as well as musical knowledge.
“They have to make decisions and get along,” Langlois said.
“Every song gets mapped out on the board so the guys can see the song structure,” Tony Armagost said. “We’re teaching them to work together, learning an average of one song every week.”
The band has a repertoire of about 11 – 12 songs, including one they wrote themselves.
“They play anything — classic rock, brand new pop — any genre is fair game,” said Tony Armagost. “They have started with covers, because people relate better to cover songs. They’re baby-stepping into original songs.”
The band operates through a grant from Catholic Health Initiatives and the Minnesota State Arts Board, according to Music Center Director Robyn Gray.
“These guys are our pilot program,” Langlois said. “They’re in it for the real deal. It’s great seeing how much fun they’re having; I would do this for free.”
Learning about the nuts and bolts of being part of a band has challenged the boys in some ways.
“I didn’t understand how long it takes to set everything up and take it down,” Blair said.
“I didn’t expect everything that is involved; to be singing is new for me,” said Sobania. “It’s just me and my amp when I practice at home.”
“What surprised me the most were all the microphones on the drums,” said Gerads.
“There’s more to a band than you see in a music video,” said Cary Armagost. “I didn’t know about all the cords and microphones.”
But the guys find being in their band a very exciting experience.
“I like the sound of the music,” Sobania said. “I like having fun with the band and playing guitar.”
“I like seeing the overall effectiveness on people — seeing them smile and be happy while they’re listening,” Cary Armagost said.
“I like coming up for practices every single Friday, being with these guys and playing guitar,” Blair said.
“Playing the drums and having fun is what I like most,” said Gerads.
“They are still kids who love to play,” Tony Armagost said. “They are a high-energy group, and often grab balls and frisbees and start playing and jumping around on the mats.”
“Through URock, we’re trying to add more to the community, — something more for our youth to do” Langlois said.
“As band kids get older, they use their experience to become mentors,” Tony Armagost said.
The band was featured in a live band demonstration at the Five Wings Arts Council in Staples in January to kick off featured artwork created to promote the performances of the URock bands over the past seven years.
Plans are in the works for a half-hour video short to be filmed through Great River Arts Association and Channel 6 in Little Falls.
“It will have full production,” Tony Armagost said. “It’s all lined up and we’re just ironing out the details.”
Power Plant will be competing in a talent show at Mary of Lourdes Middle School Feb. 24, at 1 p.m. LaVerne Bzdok will be the emcee for groups vying for a $75 First Prize.
The band will be offering a mini-concert “Rock ‘n’ Roll” recital Saturday, Mar. 16 at 4 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Financial aid is available for the URock band camp for all who need it.
For more information, call (320) 632-0637.