By David Hoadley, Correspondent
The words “Van Halen” and “convent” don’t often appear together, but anyone strolling the halls of the St. Francis Music Center on the second floor of the St. Francis Convent in Little Falls on a recent Friday would have heard the unmistakable sound of Van Halen’s “Eruption.” The song is better known as the guitar solo that leads into the band’s cover of the 1964 Kinks hit “You Really Got Me.”
Following the sound to its source that Friday would have led to a guitarist still several years shy of driving age and the rest of a band of four musicians that, combined, would still be younger than the song they were playing.
Zachary Sobania was the man channeling Eddie Van Halen that day and he and three other local musicians make up the band Power Plant. Besides guitars, Sobania, age 11, plays some keyboards and violin. Cary Armagost, 14, also plays guitar, while 13-year-old Logan Gerads mans the drums and Joseph Blair, age 12, handles the bass guitar. All but Gerads, who is from Rice, are Little Falls residents.
Armagost, Sobania and Blair met three summers ago at U Rock, the music center’s summer camp for middle school and high school musicians. They played in a band that summer, but the drummer was from the Twin Cities.
“So we didn’t really go on after the first year of U Rock,” Aramagost said. “But then we all realized that we were all still here. And Tony (Armagost’s dad), our coach, taught drums here and Logan was one of his students and (Tony) recommended him to our band.” All four remain students at the center, with the three guitarists studying with teacher Greg Langlois.
The band is focused mostly on classic rock music and the decision to add a song to the set list usually follows some individual testing.
“People bring up things they’d like to do,” Armagost said, “then we practice them between each practice and see how good it sounded and if it sounded good we put it to the actual set list that we use for gigs.
“We’re all pretty much fans of classic rock,” he added. “That’s what more than half of our music is.” The music center faculty, which also includes Jordan Welinski, has introduced other genres of music such as soul and the blues, but so far performances have generally centered around bands like Led Zeppelin and Paul McCartney.
“I figure they’ve got plenty of years to go,” Langlois said, “so I’m just slowly introducing them to the cream of the crop. And then it’s whatever else they discover on their own.”
The band’s name has a connection to St. Francis Convent, too. Each summer the campus hosts a Green Fair that highlights the U Rock bands, and Sobania found inspiration in that.
“We thought it’d be a good idea to, since it was Green Fair, use something kind of environmental, so eventually I came up with the name Power Plant,” he said. This year’s U Rock camp begins July 25, and information can be found at www.sfmusiccenter.org.
The four are aware that having access to a music center with lessons in playing rock music is special.
“It’s really exciting,” Sobania commented, “because many people our age don’t get that opportunity.” And they enjoy the atmosphere of the music center and the convent as a whole.
“It’s a place where we can come together,” Armagost said. “People can hear us downstairs playing and sometimes we feel bad for them because sometimes we run songs multiple, multiple, multiple times in a row.”
“Kind of like a home away from home,” Blair said.
“A fun place to come. Good vibes,” Armagost said.
The musicians have taken advantage of the opportunity for inter-generational conversations by meeting with the sisters on occasion.
“We used to go downstairs after practice and eat with them,” Blair said.
“That was always a fun time,” Armagost said, “because they’d say, ‘Are you the Power Plant band? We heard your music upstairs and you guys sound good.’ A lot of good people here.”
Teachers Langlois and Armagost were sure to mention a list of people without whom the band would probably not exist. The Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls top the list, which also includes Catholic Health Initiatives, Five Wings Arts Council and the music center staff, especially director Robyn Gray.
Lest anyone fear that the four are being denied their youth, they told a lengthy story involving crushed Pop-Tarts and another about renting paddle boats on Lake George—well, maybe the less said about that the better.
“That stuff is just as important to these guys as playing music,” Tony Armagost noted. “Being kids.”
“We laugh a lot,” Langlois said. “This is a serious thing what we’re doing, but I think it’s important not to take ourselves too serious and have fun doing it.”
“It’s always a good learning experience,” Cary Armagost said of the lesson time. “We have different stuff we do at every lesson, learn songs, learn different blues scales.” And they’ve been introduced to some music they might not otherwise have been exposed to.
“I can now say I like Led Zeppelin,” Aramagost said.
“And who else?” asked Langlois. “Dio,” the three guitarists said in unison.
“I think the coolest part of being a teacher for these guys for so long is just watching them grow,” Langlois said. “Not just these guys or any one in particular, and just being able to share the gift, being able to give what’s been so freely given to me and give it right back. I think it’s the coolest thing in the world to be a teacher and to be a mentor.
“These are talented guys,” he said. “But they’ve had to work at it. It’s not like they just woke up and were good. They’ve had to work and I think that’s what’s important. We have a lot of fun but we have a good work ethic, too, and when we’re one-on-one teaching, we still have fun but there’s times we have to work hard. We just lucked out with a gifted group of kids.”
There are plenty of opportunities to see Power Plant in the area this summer, starting Sunday, June 15, as part of Falls Festival on Foot, sponsored by Healthy Community Collaborative. The band will play under the Falls Cinema marquee. They also will be at the Dam Festival Friday, June 20, at Maple Island Park and will join other U Rock bands as part of the Green Fair again Wednesday, Aug. 6, on the convent campus. A show at the Morrison County Fair is set but not announced yet and there’s talk of playing for a car show in July. Then the summer wraps up as they open, as they did last year, for the Fabulous Armadillos Wednesday, Aug. 27, for Summertime By George in St. Cloud.
The four all have some high school years yet to go, but it’s hard to predict the long-term future.
“I know we’ll all play music forever,” Armagost said. “I don’t know how long this band will last, but I hope it does last because these are some neat guys.”