Anacortes High Schoolers show their musical talent at Kennelly Keys Music
This is the second consecutive year that Kennelly Keys Music has hosted Rock the Island – a high school competition of independent teen music. It gives young local musicians the opportunity to perform in front of their peers and a panel of judges, each of whom hail from the the local music scene.
The lights flashed purple and blue over an enthusiastic crowd made up of teens and musicians in the performance hall at Kennelly Keys Music, a local music store and concert venue. From mellow solos to rocking quintets, the 5th Annual Rock the Island: Battle of the Bands on Feb. 3rd was a night to remember. Featuring a wide range of acts, the event showcased a beautiful array of student talent and commitment to the arts.
First on the stage was vocal and acoustic guitar soloist Nathan Doebler covering two pop favorites.
Next up was Mason Blackburn who played two of his mellow indie rock originals.
Following Mason was The Breakers, featuring vocalist and keyboardist Madeline Thomason and accompanying guitarist Wade Miller.
Fourth was Afternoon Broadcast, a punk rock trio featuring modern adaptations of alt-rock classics.
Fifth was Dead Mans Lawyer, an indie alt-rock trio featuring contemplative original lyrics and “scorching” guitar solos, as described by judge Isaac Hansen.
Sixth was The Sophomores, a group of – you guessed it – sophomores who won the hearts of the audience with their driving rhythms and soaring vocals from lead singer Natalie Blanchard.
In third place was Dead Mans Lawyer. This dynamic trio kept the crowd engaged by transitioning vocals between the three of them, and singing refreshing lyrics contemplating the beauty of life through the darker tones of alternative indie rock. According to lead singer Hunter Stevens, they didn’t start out with this kind of impact in mind.
“The closest inspiration we had was Tenacious D, but we didn’t really come close after we created the band.” – Hunter Stevens
Despite the shift in focus from comedy to more serious material, the group still thrived on stage. Band members are Hunter Stevens on vocals, Eddi Clark on lead guitar, and Mason Blackburn on rhythm and percussion. The group has been playing together since November, but all members have been active musicians from a young age.
In second place was The Sophomores. Described by judge Nick Rennis of local record store The Business as a “psych jam”, The Sophomores captured the audience with their infectious energy and soon had the crown dancing. Group members Natalie Blanchard (lead vocals), Kyle Nesset (lead guitar), Sam Hardesty (bass and lead guitar), and Vince Jackson (drums) came together in a spontaneous moment of musical inspiration when Nesset heard about Rock the Island and decided that he needed to get in on the action: Nesset assembled the others, and thus The Sophomores came into being.
In first place was Afternoon Broadcast. Lead guitarist and vocalist Dakota Robb-Bryan and brother Danielito Robb-Bryan participated in Rock the Island last year, and this year added friend Zoe Fry on the bass and backing vocals for a fuller punk rock sound. The group’s modern adaptations shed new light on punk rock classics such as “Bonzo Goes to Bitburgh” by The Ramones thanks to the group’s unique style. In a brief post-show interview, the siblings discussed their plans for the future. According to Dakota, Rock the Island forced them to really think seriously about being active in the music scene.
“It started as a goal. Just kinda, see how it goes, but now that we won and get a couple of gigs, I feel more compelled to do more as a band.” –Dakota Robb-Bryan
Danielito, having gotten a taste of rock and roll glory, said that he’d like to pursue this as a semi-serious hobby saying, “[I would like] to make a rock and roll album. I also want to throw my drumsticks into the audience at the end of a concert. I mean, more like a toss. I don’t wanna peg people. It seems that the punk-rock vibe of rebelliousness has rubbed off on him. Having won first place, Afternoon Broadcast will get the opportunity to open for an upcoming show at Kennelly Keys Music, as well as getting the chance to play at the Skagit County Fair in August.”
Rock the Island was founded by AHS alumni Henry Holgerts and digital media teacher Jim Thompson in an effort to inspire more high school bands, and it seems to have worked. Not only does the event bring the community closer to support teens, but it also gives high school’ers an opportunity to express themselves freely through music, and receive feedback from local music professionals. Many participants that I interviewed expressed thanks to the event for pushing them into the musical world. Afternoon Broadcast lead guitarist and vocalist Dakota Robb-Bryan put it this way, “Deciding to do Rock the Island gave us the motivation to actually form a band.”
This sentiment was echoed by The Sophomores guitarist Sam Hardesty shared, “It’s a great chance to get out there!” This event is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for teens to get out into the music world at a young age and push their comfort levels, something that all of us should practice. Exposing oneself to the world, especially through music, is not an easy thing to do, but these brave teens did, and they brought the house down. Here’s to a community invested in music and supporting the younger generation.
YOUTH ARTS WRITER JADE CARTER: Jade is a Junior at Anacortes High School, and seems to possess an innate affinity for the arts. With a background in poetry and prose, Jade is just now beginning her journey into the world of journalism. Interested in the connection between social justice and the arts, Jade will be covering the younger side of the arts community, music, and spoken word.