Fair boasts its own school of rock

Rock U exhibit drops musical knowledge through engagement

By Stover E. Harger III, Columbian staff writer


photoBrenden Banta, 16, of Kalama plays a fast pattern on an electric drum set Sunday inside the Clark County Fair's "Rock U: The Institute of Rock 'n' Roll" exhibit.

(/The Columbian)

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If you go

What: Clark County Fair.

Hours today: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Where: 17402 N.E. Delfel Road.

Admission: Adults, $10; seniors 62 and older, $8; kids 7-12, $7; kids 6 and younger, free; parking, $6; C-Tran shuttle, $2 per person round-trip from area park-and-ride lots; children 6 and younger ride free. $1 discount on admission with a bus fare stub.

Carnival: Opens at noon; unlimited rides today, $25.

Barns: Close early today.

99.5 The Wolf Grandstands: Mutton Bustin’, 2 p.m.; NW Bull Riding Championship, 7 p.m.

Other highlights: Talent Show Contest, 11 a.m.; Washington Old Time Fiddlers, noon.

Pets: Not permitted, except for personal service animals or those on exhibition or in competition.

More information: Clark County Fair or call 360-397-6180.

Online: Download the mobile app for the Clark County Fair.

The 16-year-old ferociously beating the electric drums at the Clark County Fair — his hands a blur, his eyes closed in concentration — must not have gotten the memo that "rock is dead."

That clichéd concept has persevered for many years. But it's becoming an even-more common refrain as album sales continue to decline and the diverse genre ages into its seventh decade — making rock music old enough to get a discount at Denny's. Bill Haley & His Comets loved to put their "glad rags" on and "Rock Around the Clock" in 1954, but 17 years later Led Zeppelin was already reminding us how long it had been since they "rock and rolled." These days, it's apparently up to Fall Out Boy to "Save Rock and Roll," the title of the band's modest-selling, pop-tinged 2013 album.

Yet, it's a celebration of all things rock — not a funeral — inside the fair's "Rock U: The Institute of Rock 'n' Roll." The touring exhibit, created in 2011 by Sacramento, Calif.'s Stage Nine Exhibit Design, features interactive displays, classic concert photos and a wealth of nostalgic nuggets tracing the music style from its blues-derived roots to the myriad subgenres that have since stretched the definition of "rock."

Drummer Brenden Banta's love of hard rock music was instilled in him as a young kid through the listening habits of his dad, a Metallica fan.

The Kalama teen took a break from pounding the skins inside Rock U on Sunday to rattle off a few of his own idols: thrash metalists Defiance and Christian rockers Skillet.

While he's developed his own unique tastes, Banta respects the lineage of rock; all bands are standing on the shoulders of giants: Chuck Berry begat The Beatles, who begat Black Sabbath, who begat Metallica, who begat Defiance. And it continues.

Rock U is all about showing that long and winding road.

Stage Nine CEO Troy Carlson said the exhibit is centered around interaction, not a dull stroll down memory lane. Some displays inside South Hall 1 are simple, for instance featuring only a few examples of 1980s hair metal or 1990s grunge. Other stations invite hands-on participation. At the "Can You Feel It" wall, visitors can blindly reach inside a hole to grasp and then guess what unusual instrument is being played on a particular track, such as Blue Öyster Cult's heavy use of a cowbell in 1976's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper." Young fairgoers seem to be particularly attracted to the oversized keyboard that lights up and plays notes when stepped on, just like in the movie "Big." Behind "The Big Keyboard Experience" are illustrations of noted rock pianists Elton John, Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles.

"We wanted it to be a really interactive, engaging experience, not just reading about the history," Carlson said. "To make it so (visitors) walk away knowing a little more than when they came."

Ben and Alee Martin, both 11, are just now discovering their favorites. While their mom Tara is a woman of the 1980s — Def Leppard and Madonna are two of her go-to performers — her twins lean more toward country. Both quickly named Johnny Cash, who walked the line between country and rock for his entire career, when speaking on Saturday about their most-loved musicians.

Sometimes, what's old is new again.

"Even the kids nowadays are starting to dig The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and stuff like that," said Phil Reif, who travels with the exhibit as a guide. "(Rock music) transcends."

Stover Harger III: 360-735-4530; http://twitter.com/col_hoods;stover.harger@columbian.com