The kid’s T-shirt says VAN HALEN, and the punky stare says he means it. So does a big guitar tone that burns right through you. It seems like a weapon intended for use by adults only. Doesn’t this kid need a license to play like that?
It doesn’t matter that 15-year-old Kristian Pedersen wasn’t even around during the 1980s and 1990s, when the hairy hard-rock band named on his shirt had its heyday. Pedersen has mastered both the simple building blocks and the anything-but-simple guitar pyrotechnics that blast “You Really Got Me” off the launchpad — every power chord and cutting lick, every scream of feedback and nasty pick-scrape down the strings.
“I don’t have to bug him to practice,” said proud dad Scott Pedersen — who dabbled with piano and trumpet in his day, he said, but never reached anything like his son’s status as genuinely stageworthy rock star. “He is really motivated. He embraces it.”
Pedersen was one of the littlest — yet surely among the loudest — players to rock Billy Blues Bar & Grill on the last Sunday in July. The Hazel Dell nightclub, under new management as of a few years ago, has been striving to establish itself as a premiere local music venue, and otherwise-quiet Sunday nights are no exception. Billy Blues has hosted a weekly Youth Jam Night for the past year or so, drawing everyone from nervous newbies who’ve never set a toe onstage, to proto-professionals such as Pedersen, who’s been blowing the doors off the place as often as possible.
If you go
• What: Youth Jam/open mic at Billy Blues
• When: Most Sunday nights at 7 p.m.
• Where: Billy Blues Bar & Grill, 7115 N.E. Hazel Dell Ave., Vancouver
• Billy Blues: www.billybluesbarandgrill.com
• Northwest Rock Academy: nwrockacademy.com/wp
• Music World: musicworldstores.com
Performing at a real venue in front of real people “is a good learning experience, to see how far you can go,” said Pedersen.
Local pros Kerry Movassagh and Federico Pol started this Sunday night showcase for people who can’t legally imbibe most of what’s on this menu.
“We’re friends with the owners, and it was something to do on a Sunday night,” Movassagh said. The venue has invested in a great sound-and-lighting system, and Movassagh and Pol, a guitarist and a bass player, first figured on launching a standard jam or open mic for their “weekend warrior” friends, he said.
But that field is already crowded, so the idea evolved. “We all teach, so the idea came up, wouldn’t it be cool if we could give our kids this professional setting? We really didn’t know how it was going to go, but it has turned into a super-rewarding thing,” Movassagh said. “It’s a good investment in the next generation of live music.”
“You can’t really make it in music,” is the message that Pol said he wants to beat back. He and Movassagh, who formed a fast friendship in the Tommy Tutone band, are living proof of the opposite. In addition to Tutone, Pol has played with everyone from Joe Cocker to Jose Feliciano; Movassagh has played with Soul Vaccination, “Metro,” and numerous jazz groups as well as Brothers of the Baladi, a Portland world-music group.
“It can be good, if you’re good,” Pol said. “Kids just need a place to go play.”
That Sunday night, the duo-plus-drummer warmed up the gathering crowd with a few songs of their own. Then they played rhythm section for a handful of special guests — their own students. Next up was the student Northwest Rock Academy band, featuring instructor Will Stewart on bass. Last but definitely not least was an impressively noisy-yet-tight band of young pros from east Clark County called DnD7, needing no help from any grown-up musicians to thoroughly thrash the place.
All of which is a far cry from sitting alone and “jamming along with tracks,” which is as far as many music students get, Stewart said. In 2012, he started his Northwest Rock Academy, based at Music World in Battle Ground, to bridge the gap between lonely practice and real gigs, he said; he forms up seasonal bands that rehearse forcommunity events such as National Night Out, Battle Ground Harvest Days and the Clark County Fair — but Sunday nights at Billy Blues is an invaluable weekly outing, he said.
“It takes it to the next level,” he said. “You’re in a band and performing. You have to learn to work with other musicians and think in the moment. What if something goes wrong? What do you do? It’s very much a real-world application.”
A chief benefit of all that, Pol said, is self-esteem. Or, as Movassagh put it: “They’re always scared to death the first time. Two or three times later, it’s like, ‘Get out of my way.’ ”
The youngest player at Billy Blues on the last Sunday in July — accompanied by Mom, Dad, little brother and a gaggle more enthusiastic relatives — was Julio Brewer, age 11. Julio said he’s been studying guitar at Music World for almost a year.
His mother, Laura, added that when Julio set his heart on guitar lessons, he knew it was up to him to save his nickels and buy his own instrument. He took it as a challenge and amassed an impressive $200 through “chores and yard work, stuff like that,” he said, for a sweet cherry-red electric axe.
Why guitar? Well, he plunks around on piano too, and he hopes to start drums, as well. “But guitar is the coolest,” he shrugged. Need any more explanation than that?
Too bad if you did — because Julio was up. He strapped on his guitar and made the grown-up power trio into a quartet that crashed into “Bad Boy,” a classic three-chord stomp written by Larry Williams and made (semi-) famous by the early Beatles. Julio chunked along on bar chords.
“It went all right,” he said afterwards. Sometimes he steps out with lead-guitar lines and “moves,” he said — “but also, you don’t want to mess up.”
After that, Julio volunteered as lighting designer for the rest of the evening’s acts — using a tablet to make the stage lights dance, spin and change colors. He barely touched his french fries.
Fathers, sons, pedals
Noah Hyde, 17, showed off some serious lead-guitar mastery on bluesy tunes by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Deep Purple, Tom Petty and the Beatles. He sang, too — plus, he’s got that stalking-across-the-stage-rock-guitar-god thing down pat. Hyde’s guitar teacher is Pol, he said, and he’s pretty sure about a future that combines performance and music education.
“I want to have a platform to make music but I also want to be someone who invests in other students, just like he’s invested in me,” Hyde said.
After he conquered the room, Hyde cooled off at a table with his dad, Kaare, who’s yet another lifelong guitar dabbler.
Some dads share fishing or cars or sports with their sons; the Hydes bond over matters like “figuring out what effects pedals work best together,” Kaare said.
“It’s very satisfying,” he said. “Noah has a passion, but he’s also a student. To see my son’s gift grow like this, it would make any dad proud in his heart.”
Incidentally, it’s not 100 percent young men with guitars who turn up at Billy Blues — but almost. When The Columbian visited, 14-year-old Zoey King was in the Northwest Rock Academy band on “keytar” — an electronic keyboard you can strap around your shoulders and hold like a guitar. The Rock Academy’s Stewart said he’s worked with female lead singers and the occasional female guitarist — but he’s definitely eager to see real gender equity reach the boys club that is rock ‘n’ roll.
One dude already bending the Sunday night rules in favor of equity and inclusiveness is Andrew White, a member of the club owners’ extended family. White is 35 years old and has Down Syndrome. And, he plays a pretty mean blues harmonica.
“He’s got all the moves. He’s very comfortable up there, he just loves it,” said his sister, Ann, who transports Andrew here every week. “It’s so good for him.”