Old Enough to Play the Austin City Limits Music Festival…But Not Always Old Enough To Vote
Of all the artists playing the 2012 Austin City Limits Music Festival, Abby Torres, 16 and Carla Pantoja 16, may be the only performers who managed to squeeze in a marching band competition that October weekend.
Torres and Pantoja are members of the Lanier High School band who also study music via Anthropos Arts, an Austin-based non-profit providing music lessons to dedicated young performers from at risk backgrounds. The project’s supporters include musician Esperanza Spalding, who popped by the Anthropos booth at ACL to pose for pictures after her Friday afternoon show.
Torres and Pantoja were just two of the five Anthropos students who joined the 13 kids from the B Team, the show band from Austin’s School of Rock for a Sunday afternoon set.
How dedicated are these young musicians? On Sunday morning before their ACL show, saxophone player Ritchie Beltran, 15 was in a car accident with his mother. Even shaken up and achy he still showed up to play.
During much of ACL I was sitting in a child sized folding chair, listening to the B Team kids grinding out renditions of classic rock to an audience who occasionally dropped their pacifiers.
Watching those student workshops and rehearsals was like watching a ballet class or a young Improv acting troupe. These kids were learning how to perform. Dylan Jones, the Anthropos leader the kids call “Jones” was even instructing the girls in his group on how to bop along and participate during a show. (Especially important at moments when they weren’t playing their instruments!)
One surprising performances during ACL was by 11 year-old Masyn Avila who was belting out the 80’s metal classic, “Rainbow in the Dark.” Unlike my usual experience taking pictures at a rock festival, this time I was standing next to the artist’s mother!
Watching Avila on the Austin Kiddie Limits stage was like watching a pre-fame Michael Jackson. When not on stage, the rock ‘n’ roll prodigy seems like a sweet kid from Liberty Hill Intermediate School whose voice hasn’t changed and who enjoys tossing around a Nerf football with his pals.
It’s not surprising that Avila’s parents would be around for his show. They moved here from California two years ago so that Avila could take advantage of the Austin music scene, including the Austin location of the School of Rock.
Getting a musical education provided students with both an opportunity to appear at ACL and rock out with a musical legend.
James Williamson, the guitarist from the seminal 70s pre-punk band “Iggy and the Stooges” was contacted by the Austin School of Rock Music Director Rick Carney to perform with the kids. Together they’d be playing “Search and Destroy.” That’s the same song Williamson played when inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Hours after his Austin Kiddie Limits appearance, Williamson played the song again. This time he was performing with vocalist Iggy Pop on an ACL main stage in front of thousands of people.
Improbably Williamson has only recently started appearing again as a Stooge, following a 37 year hiatus from rock ‘n’ roll. In his other career Williamson worked in the computer industry and was an executive at Sony.
Williamson said that he doesn’t usually sit in with high school students, but he appeared patient and respectful of the kids during rehearsal.
“They know that song better than I did,” Williamson said with a chuckle, following a Saturday morning rehearsal before the festival gates opened.
While the kids were thrilled about playing with Williamson, one mom was over the moon.
“I was a Stooges fan 30 years ago, and never in my wildest dreams did I ever dream that I’d have a daughter who’d play on stage with a Stooge,” Kim Costoe, 52 said while she was waiting for her bass-guitar playing daughter Rozie Costoe, 17, to come back from dropping off her gear.
When Rozie Costoe returned, she told me that she’d packed my distinctive parasol in a School of Rock bound van after I‘d left it backstage. I wasn’t surprised that busy, straight-A Vandegrift High Schoolstudent Costoe was taking care of things.
The kids I spent time with were playing ACL while they’re still too young to vote. Yet as Williamson might acknowledge, not everyone stays in the music industry.
Luckily the skills and traits these kids have picked up are transferable. Kindness, determination and the willingness to keep your commitments –even following a minor car accident—are what this world needs.
More pictures taken during ACL Fest for this column can be found here.
This video of Masyn Avila is several years old, but gives you an idea of what he’s like on stage: