Forget Jackson and Manilow, it’s time to get rockin’

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a lot of things when I grew up: ballerina, private eye, doctor, all the usual stuff, but I never figured myself for a rock ’n’ roll roadie, mainly because I hated rock ’n’ roll. When my older brother and sister blasted their tunes, if you could call them that, my face squished up like I’d eaten a piece of bad cheese.

“Turn it down, why don’tcha?” my 10-year-old self would say.

Michael Jackson was about as hardcore as I got, and even then I’d have to balance the MJ with a little BM (Barry Manilow).

If anyone’s to blame for my milquetoast sensibilities, it’s Lawrence Welk. And yes, we can blame him because he’s dead and he won’t sue.

Every Saturday night, Grandma and I watched Welk’s weekly show on television. We bounced with the polkas, sang with the crooners, and oohed and ahed over all that chiffon.

Rock ’n’ roll had nothing for me.

So how is it that this summer, this minivan-driving, self-proclaimed “Mani-looney,” became the roadie for a rock ’n’ roll band called – fasten your seat belts – Strangers with Candy?

It all started with Ted Brown Music Store, an 82-year-old local business now run by the original Ted Brown’s granddaughters, Stephanie Howe and Whitney Grisaffi.

Three years ago, Howe and Grisaffi decided to turn their already extensive music outreach up a notch. They wanted to get loud, real loud. They wanted to hit a hidden demographic and make some rock ’n’ roll.

They contacted Joe Wilson, himself a beneficiary of Ted Brown’s commitment to young musicians, and who, over a long career, was musician, producer and, always, rock ’n’ roll lover extraordinaire. The sisters asked Wilson if he could help local kids form their own summer rock bands.

Wilson’s answer: “I’ll only do it if I can blow the kids’ socks off.”

Wilson’s worked with some big names – the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and Ampeg, to name just a few, and he knows what rock ’n’ roll writ large is supposed to look like.

The sisters agreed to back Wilson’s “Go big or go home” vision and Live It OutLoud was born.

For eight weeks, kids rehearse with volunteer mentors, all of whom are working musicians who know the business. Wilson’s also brought in Calen Tacket from Amadon; Daniel Nanasi, president of Agora Entertainment; and guitarist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Roger Fisher to offer extra support and instruction. Local restaurants such as Jazzbones of Tacoma and Louis G’s of Fife let the bands come in and jam.

Andy Massagli, a band mentor, said what Wilson and Ted Brown are doing is the equivalent of giving a kid who wants to play baseball a real team to play on.

And this, in a nutshell, is how I became a roadie, and it’s not as complicated as one might think. There’s no real heavy lifting involved. Most of the time I just drive around a blue-haired 14-year-old who always seems to be hungry.

“But you just ate!” is the frequent cry of a roadie.

Most kids begin Live It OutLoud like my son did, as a tentative teenager, dwarfed by the big amps and professional equipment, but they end Live It OutLoud, as they will Saturday downtown in the Pantages, in a fierce battle of the bands.

Only one band will come in first, but thanks to Ted Brown Music, all of them will know what it feels like to be Arena Rock Stars. And believe-you-me, this righteous, chiffon-lovin’ roadie will be the one down in front screaming, “Crank it, baby! Crank it!”

In the words of Mr. Welk, it will be, wonerful, wonerful.

Karen Irwin of Tacoma teaches writing at Clover Park Technical College. Email her at irwinkd@yahoo.com. 

Ted Brown Music Outreach will hold its third annual Live It OutLoud concert from 1-6 p.m. Saturday at the Pantages Theater, Tacoma. Tickets ($15) can be purchased online at the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, at the Pantages box office or by phone at 253-591-5894 or 800-291-7593. All proceeds go to Ted Brown Music Outreach — a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization — to help fund its educational and musical instrument programs.