Preston Nash, the lessons department head at Sam Ash music store and cofounder of the ASH ROCK band program, stands on the corner stage of Birdy’s Bar, and introduces the opening band. “These guys have only been together for all of about three weeks now,” he says. “Give it up for Black Meltdown.” Black Meltdown is my band. We are on the stage ready to play. Within the last three weeks we learned that rehearsing for two two-song performances was not as easy as it sounded and tonight is the true test.
Preston Nash and Jeff Stone created ASH ROCK together in February of 2012 as a program that places single musicians into a band, and, according to the company’s website, to “give beginner to intermediate players their first rock group experience.” Initially they wanted to help younger people who wanted to be in a band fulfill their dreams.
ASH ROCK is for musicians of all ages and experience levels, and is perfect for anyone who wants to join a band. “These are not professional musicians in ASH ROCK. You won’t be judged for your skill level,” says Stone. While Nash and his wife, Rocky, had played around with the idea, Stone put a program for adults in motion. “I wanted to help musicians who didn’t have an outlet to get back in a band and perform,” says Stone.
The ASH ROCK program helps musicians gain confidence and truly find themselves as musicians. “The number of bands has grown into the double digits,” Nash proudly says.
ASH ROCK now offers a variety of band project opportunities, including ASH ROCK Originals, a program where participants write their own songs and spend time in the recording studio. Then there are ASH ROCK Generations bands that play mostly cover songs popular in the late 70’s and 80’s. My band, Black Meltdown, is one of these Generations Bands.
After a week together with no singer, Black Meltdown accepted me into their band for the last three practices before the big shows. Because the band had started working together a week before I came along, everybody already knew each other, and I came in a little nervous. But the group accepted me with open arms and I knew within the first 15 minutes of rehearsal that signing up for ASH ROCK was the right decision.
In ASH ROCK, many participants are just starting out. “I always wanted to join a band, but I wasn’t sure if I was good enough,” says Kazumi Kettery, rhythm guitarist of Black Meltdown. “One day I came across a flyer at Sam Ash about the program.” Other musicians with more experience like the program because it gives them a chance to learn their instrumentals better. “I joined this program,” says Court Whitfield, lead guitarist of Black Meltdown, “because I thought it would be fun to learn how to play with other musicians while being under the direction and guidance of experienced teachers.”
As a singer, it was a gift to have a professional musician take us under his wing and make simple suggestions that could save the entire song. Stone worked with our band and helped us to fine tune and polish our sound before we stepped onto the stage. And with only three weeks to learn our songs, we needed some fine tuning.
When we began to play the bridge in Blondie’s “One Way or Another” for the first time, all of our sounds clashed together and sounded chaotic. Stone was quick to stop us before we got to a total train wreck and helped us sort ourselves out. “Now. Let’s try that again. But this time, let’s all play the same song.” He wrote out the chords for the guitar on a dry erase board for Whitfield and Kettery, and the bass chords for Racette. After a few plays through “One Way or Another”, we all understood what we needed to do to make the song sound right thanks to his patient teaching.
Continuing through our practices we hit more rough spots about playing together and I had to learn some responsibilities of leadership as the singer. During the second practice, Stone instructed me to “drive the truck”, as he puts it, and work on counting the band in. At first, this idea sounded strange, but once I got used to cueing in Whitfield and Kettery for their guitar solos, the rest wasn’t so difficult for me.
Because I am more of a jazz singer, doing covers of rock songs was a bit of a challenge. I love challenges, though. Throughout the three weeks, I continued to change up the melodies and rhythms in the two songs, trying to make it my own. It was a true learning experience for me, and I really attempted to mix both genres into my singing.
The moment we stepped onto the stage for our sound check at Birdy’s, I was so nervous that I thought I’d get sick. Nash asked us to practice our first song on the stage to make sure everything was sounding right. Once all of the line and amp adjustments had been made, we stepped off stage and immediately received praise from the audience.
“You guys sounded great for just a sound check!” said one man. Another nice woman, who was also performing that night, told me that she loved the jazzy style I add to songs where jazz has no business being. That made me feel accomplished with my tweaking all of us felt more at ease for the praise. When we got on stage for the show to start, the nerves subsided and we were ready to play our hearts out.
Preston Nash walked off into the audience just after introducing us, and the stage was ours. Because we had played the majority of our first song, “One Way or Another,” during sound check to all of the same people out in the audience, I didn’t feel very nervous about performing.
We made it through smoothly and I cued the band to wrap up the song with my last, “one way. . . “, with my hands up in the air, and we paused for the applause that followed, with proud smiles on our faces.
Our drummer, Jeff Laker, started playing the intro to our second song, “Black Velvet” and the rest of the band followed flawlessly. I began singing, and we noticed a group of people had lined up in front of the stage to watch us. We were starting to get into the heart of the song, but there was some confusion all around, and some members thought it was time for lead guitarist, Whitfield to play his solo. I began feeling worried and panicked on the stage, looking back a few times at Whitfield to try and get him back on track.
I tried to keep my eyes down and away from the audience for the remainder of the song. We had messed up so much. I thought the audience had to have noticed our bumblings. But to my surprise, at the end of the song, we received applause and cheering.
After our set was finished, many people came up to compliment us on our hard work. It took me a while to fully catch my breath again, after having a minor anxiety attack right on stage, but this was still a proud moment for me. As nervous and scared as I was to be on stage and performing, I still stuck with the plan and didn’t run off stage, even when I was panicking.
We weren’t perfect. But we did it. “There were definitely some shaky moments during rehearsal, and even a few train wrecks, but when you got on stage, everyone did awesomely!” says Stone. Nash agrees that although there were shaky moments, we seemed to get it together by our performances. “I will say that Black Meltdown, with only three full band rehearsals, pulled together and did great. Are there things to work on? Sure. I’ve been playing music for over three decades and I still have plenty to work on myself.”
I didn’t know what to expect at the beginning, but now having been through the program, LyneRacette, Court Whitfield, Jeff Laker, Kazumi Kettery and myself all recommend the ASH ROCK program to new musicians, or even more advanced musicians looking for a band. The great thing about Ash Rock is not only do they place you in a band with like-musicians, but you also have somewhat a band coach, who helps to fine-tune your sound and can hear issues that those in the band may not hear.
Thanks to ASH ROCK, we will continue to learn as musicians and we will continue to become more skilled.
By Lynzi Stringer