Close your eyes and listen to the band on stage. A spot-on rendition of “Hotel California” comes pouring out of the speakers, complete with note-perfect dual guitar solos that The Eagles would be proud of.
Next up is an inspired medley: Led Zep’s “Trampled Under Foot”, followed by Modest Mouse’s “Float On”, and finally “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand. The vocals ooze with emotion, the rhythm section is tight, and the transitions are seamless.
Obviously this is a group of seasoned professionals, right?
But when you open your eyes, you’ll probably feel the need to redefine the term, “seasoned professionals”.
The band you’ve been listening to is Cryin’ Out Loud, and they’re simply one of the best teen bands you’re likely to hear. Of course, I’m biased – they’re my students. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
From the Classroom to the Stage
Cryin’ Out Loud had its beginnings in the Thursday evening Classic Rock Band at Maryland Conservatory of Music.
When I was hired to teach guitar at MCM back in 2005, there was no ensemble for the kids who played pop/rock music. So I approached Duke Thompson (founder of MCM) with the idea of creating a class/ensemble in a “School of Rock” style. I would pick the repertoire I thought the class could handle and teach the students to play it. At the end of the semester, we would have a concert for parents and friends to show off our songs.
With each semester, the ensemble grew in popularity and size, eventually splitting into two separate bands. We were also growing beyond just end-of-semester shows; with the help of MCM, we were now playing community performances, and the audiences raved about how well the kids – from 7th to 11th grades – played their songs in just a semester’s worth of work. There always seemed to be a buzz when the MCM Rock Band was going to perform somewhere!
Fast forward to the fall of 2009 and it was time for me to take my leave from the school and venture out on my own. Some of the core band kids decided to stick together and form their own group and they asked me if I would work with them privately, as their musical director/manager. The parents also got involved, providing rehearsal space, booking performances, arranging photo shoots, making t-shirts and posters, and lugging equipment. Cryin’ Out Loud was officially a band.
The first lineup of Cryin’ Out Loud came together in the fall of 2009 and consisted of Piper Bateman on vocals and guitar, Emily Oursler on guitar, Austin Haberkam on guitar and vocals, Sarah Jensen on bass and Ethan Slusher on drums. The band rehearsed diligently and within a few months had amassed a repertoire of 20 songs, which was enough to get them through most performance opportunities.
Initially, gigs were booked at low-key venues and with friendly crowds, so the band could find its groove without too much pressure. Even having played a number of performances for MCM, the kids in COL were not used to playing more than 5 or 6 songs in a set, and never more than one set! So memorizing and performing sets of 10-12 songs, and building onstage chemistry while fighting off nerves, was a pretty heavy load. Two venues that were nice enough to give COL an early shot were Harford Arts Festival and Ice World.
We were also cognizant of the fact that it might be tough to find good, family-friendly gigs for a bunch of teen musicians, no matter how good they might be. So we focused our efforts on community-based opportunities like fairs and festivals, as well as charitable performances. By the time of this writing, COL is proud to have raised money with performances for Habitat for Humanity, as well as for the Red Cross (Haitian Relief Fund) and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Pediatric Oncology!
Unfortunately, bassist Sarah Jensen was fighting a pretty tough battle with Lyme disease and had to leave the group after just a few shows. High school friend, Josh Mitchell, filled in admirably on bass while the band searched for a permanent replacement for Sarah.
As COL’s sound improved and its repertoire expanded, the band started to look for more challenging opportunities to show what they could do. So performances were booked at more high-profile venues – The Greene Turtle and Looney’s North – and the results were incredible, with the band delivering high-energy shows to enthusiastic crowds! COL was actually the first featured teen band in either venue. The buzz was steadily increasing.
Changes and Challenges
As with any band, Cryin’ Out Loud has had to deal with the challenges of losing band members and finding good players to take their place.
In the spring of 2010, COL found its permanent bassist in Mike Murphy. Mike brought a high level of musicianship to the band, and the other members immediately welcomed him into the fold. By this time, the group’s repertoire had expanded to about 30 songs in a mix of modern and classic rock.
With a permanent bassist on board, COL was starting to play more consistently, with shows booked every 4 to 6 weeks on average. Broom’s Bloom, Harford County Farm Fair, the John Carroll Fair, First Fridays in Bel Air, and various private parties were among the band’s spring and summer performances, and its following was growing steadily.
By the winter of 2010, however, founding guitarist Austin Haberkam decided to leave the group to form his own band, The Karma Sharkz, with his dad, Mark. (Check out more on Austin’s adventures post-COL in Student Success Story: Austin Haberkam). So the band set out to find a new guitarist.
After a few rounds of auditions and a false start or two, the band found its new co-guitarist in Walsh Kunkel. Walsh was familiar with COL, having attended my guitar camps with the other members at Maryland Conservatory. He had also been my private student for a few years and he was eager for the opportunity to play with a band that had actual gigs and got paid!
With Austin gone, Piper now took on all lead vocals, and Emily, Ethan and Walsh were set to contribute backup vocals as necessary. By early spring of 2011, COL was back out performing with their new guitarist and a new batch of songs. They continued throughout the summer with performances at venues which included Looney’s North, The Greene Turtle, The Arena Club, The Lodge, Bel Air Armory Teen Night, and another featured spot at First Fridays. The band was even being booked for the occasional evening gig, with an exclusively 21-and-older crowd. Unfortunately, their last First Fridays show in August 2011 was also bassist Mike Murphy’s last show, as he was preparing to leave home for college.
It can be difficult to find a good teen bassist, but COL managed to come up a winner yet again with the addition of another former student, Elliott Weinberg, in the early fall of 2011. After a number of rehearsals, Elliott made a seamless transition into the band. Within a short period of time, he could be found on stage with COL at venues such as Broom’s Bloom, Surf City and Main Street Tower.
They’re Loud and Proud
Currently Cryin’ Out Loud boasts about 1000 fans on their Facebook page – comparable to veteran, adult bands in the Baltimore Metro area.
In 2010, the band was proud to be officially sponsored by Stalefish Board Company.
COL has had the good fortune to be featured in various publications. The band was first profiled in Harford Living magazine, as an entrant in the 2010 Harford’s Got Talent competition. They were also featured in Arrive magazine, and most recently in Darin D’Onofrio’s column, “The Plug”, in the September 2011 edition of Harford’s Heart magazine.
This fall, COL was filmed and interviewed by Harford Cable Network for the show, Kids TV News. Check out their “Kids in Art” segment from the November 2011 show HERE.
Meet the Band
The members of Cryin’ Out Loud – pictured from left to right – all hail from Harford County.
Elliott Weinberg is a junior at John Carroll HS. He plays bass in a number of different groups at school, including pep band, marching band, and jazz band, and also performs on stage in musical theater. Elliott believes that staying positive and working hard is the key to success. “Never give up because I didn’t get a break for about 4 years and now look where I am. Just keep at it and eventually your dream of performing will come true. Also practice, practice, practice!”
Ethan Slusher is a senior at John Carroll HS. Besides playing drums for COL, he is also a very accomplished guitarist who plays in an acoustic duo with Piper Bateman. Ethan is a former drum student of Jay DeWitt and is now in his 5th year of guitar studies with me. According to Ethan, projecting enthusiasm in your music is one of the most important things for drawing in the audience. “Get excited! You spent all this time rehearsing, so let it rip and don’t be timid. Trust me, it shows in your playing. People are there to watch you play. Give them a good show!”
Emily Oursler is a senior at St. Paul’s School for Girls in Baltimore. She has also acted in plays and musical theater, and plays some saxophone, piano and drums besides the guitar. Emily first picked up the guitar at age 6; we started private lessons together about 5 years ago, when she was in 8th grade. Regarding striving for excellence, Emily says, “Never let your age be an excuse for anything. Never settle because you’re young. Practice all the time, and with that, improvement comes naturally.”
Piper Bateman is a junior at Fallston HS, where she performs in theatrical productions, the chorus and the school orchestra. She also performs in an acoustic duo with Ethan Slusher. In addition to voice and guitar, Piper has played violin since the age of six and has written and recorded a handful of original songs. Her favorite thing about COL: performing. “The feeling you get when you put on a good show and the audience responds well is incredible. You feel so accomplished because you’ve worked so hard to get to that point.”
Walsh Kunkel is a junior at C. Milton Wright HS. He is a big fan of musical improvisation and brings that attitude to his role as co-guitarist in COL. According to Walsh, he took a major step forward in his guitar playing after participating in my lead guitar camp at MCM. And although playing well takes a lot of work, his enthusiasm for guitar is reflected in his advice to other aspiring musicians. “Learn to enjoy the challenges of playing your instrument, because after that, the work isn’t really work anymore.”
The common theme from all the members of Cryin’ Out Loud was how great it feels to see an audience having fun and enjoying the music that the band worked so hard to deliver. As any performer will tell you, that never changes, no matter how much of a “seasoned professional” you are.
Share This Story and Stay Connected
I hope you enjoyed this student success story on Cryin’ Out Loud! Please take a moment to share it with others on Facebook or Twitter, or however you like!
Stay connected and JOIN THE MAILING LIST in the right sidebar – it’s quick and easy and you’ll get all the latest and greatest articles and free lessons straight to your inbox!