Nate Allan sat on a four-legged stool, knees bent showing the tear in his gray skinny jeans, naked feet perched on the rungs of the stool. He leaned forward into the microphone.
"Thanks guys for coming out today," he said to the handful of teens sitting on the metal bleachers in front of the stage set up at the Harford County Farm Fair in Bel Air Friday afternoon. "It's real hot out here so I'm gonna make this my last song."
He began strumming the open notes of Imagine by John Lennon, fingers moving instinctively through the chord changes. His face was blank as he began to sing, his eyes hidden behind black sunglasses, as if all his emotion was being channeled through his voice.
The audience remained silent as the last notes fade away, then stood and applauded. Allan smiled and walked offstage.
"[He was] so good," gushed Samantha Welshch. She and her friends, Nicole Sexton and Devin Warbington, were all at the Farm Fair as members of 4-H. During a lull in 4-H activities, they had wandered over to the Showmobile, the fair's portable stage from parks and recreation.
Nicole agreed with Samantha. "He had, like, a really great voice," she said.
"It was pretty badass," added Devin.
Nate Allan said he found the opportunity to play at the fair through an advertisement posted on Harford County's Facebook page. He was originally scheduled to play on Thursday with his bandmates, Keith Tuttle and Tyler Pietruska, but he was rescheduled for a solo show on Friday after a thunderstorm shut the fair down early Thursday night.
Nate acknowledged that his audience was small but described them as "friendly and supportive." The intense summer heat may have been one reason why people were reluctant to stop and sit on unshaded metal bleachers.
"It's rough," he said about the temperature, which reached well into the 90s during the afternoon Friday. "I've been drinking lots of water. The [Farm Fair] people are supplying me with it; it's really lovely."
Living in Harford County has clearly affected Nate's musical development. He spoke of how he played his first show at the Fallston Bash, run by Gerry Muccioli, and the importance of the open-mike nights organized by Pat Redman at The Main Street Tower Restaurant in Bel Air.
"We used to hang out there and learned our chops," Nate said. "There's a really big blues and folk scene in Harford. Before I lived here, I never listened to folk music. But now it's a big influence on me, and one that we've taken into the studio," he added referring to his recently-recorded album, "When the Sun Comes Around," which will be released in September.
Nate, who is a rising senior at C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air, plans to audition for music conservatories including the Berklee College of Music in Boston, with the intention of becoming a professional musician. A risky move in the current economy, for sure, but he doesn't seem concerned.
"I'm a dreamer," he said, echoing the lyrics of the song he sang fifteen minutes earlier. "I have a certain faith that we'll all survive."
Nate's parents, Dara and Daron Ryan, said they are "totally behind" their son.
"I don't think there's any way to keep Nate from music," Dara Ryan said. "He's always had a passion for it."
Meanwhile, the members of the band One 3 Six and their parents were setting up amplifiers, electric guitars, and a drum kit on stage.
To the side of the stage, Tim Strawbridge, from Forest Hill, adjusted the settings on the soundboard. Strawbridge, who has been a sound engineer for over 30 years, currently works at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia. This weekend, however, he's handling the sound for the entire Farm Fair, everything from announcers' microphones for the pig races to the performances on the Showmobile.
"I've been doing this for six years now." Strawbridge said, explaining that he first began working sound at the Farm Fair because his high school friend and member of the Farm Fair staff, Sam Fielder, "just wouldn't stop calling."
The Harford County Farm Fair is a completely different atmosphere from Strawbridge's previous gigs, which have included mixing sound for Metallica and AC/DC's live shows. But Strawbridge said he "loves it."
"It's just ten minutes from my home, and I get to see a lot of my old schoolmates," he said.
Strawbridge also added that he thinks the live music at the Farm Fair "is taking a better direction than in years past."
"They're using local talent now, which gives kids a good place to get rid of their inhibitions and meet with other kids from the local scene," he explained. "They can listen to each other and, you know, it encourages healthy competition."
Strawbridge then drove away in his golf cart to the Main Pavilion, to begin preparations for the preliminary round of the Farm Fair Talent Show, which is being held for the first time this year.
As One 3 Six continued to set up and check their equipment, a riot of sounds spun around the stage.
From the left, came the chatter of folks chatting underneath white tents with representatives from groups such as theU.S. Armyand Christian Farmers' Outreach; from the right came the chatter of folks placing orders with the numerous vendors selling funnel cake, snowballs, and other traditional fair fare. The drone of a tractor waiting to cross the road provided the cacophony with bass, while the omnipresent sound of foot traffic tied it all together.
All these sounds were drowned at when One 3 Six finished warming up and launched into their first song, a cover of "I Ran So Far Away" by English New Wave group, A Flock of Seagulls.
The band consists of: Ryan Deptal on guitar and lead vocals, Alex Vikestad on bass and backing vocals, Miles Combs on piano and Adam Beakley on drums. The band takes their name from the highway which Deptal, Vikestad and Combs grew up along in Street, Route 136.
Deptal, Vikestad and Combs are now all rising sophomores at Harford Community College. Deptal is studying to be a music major and intends to continue his study of voice and guitar at Towson University following his graduation from HCC. Vikestad is also pursing a musical career in the field of sound engineering, while Combs is studying computer science. The newest member of the group, Adam Beakley, is entering his senior year at Fallston High School.
Melissa Deptal, Ryan's mother, is also something of an honorary member of the band.
"I sit in on every one of their practices," she said. "They practice in our garage during the summer, and the basement in the winter. I let them know if something sounds off or what's working and what's not. I'm encouraging Ryan all the way. You know, people are getting degrees in business and finance these days and still not getting jobs. I don't want Ryan to become an accountant and always regret not pursuing music. Everyone should have a shot at pursuing their passion."
As One 3 Six played, a small crowd gathered on the bleachers with more people choosing to listen from underneath the shade of a large tree about 200 feet away from the stage.
As 136 played Green Day's "Holiday," audience members enthusiastically joined in shouting the "Heys" and "Amens." In a nod to location, Deptal changed the lyrics to reference Harford County instead of California; Deptal also tastefully mumbled over a line containing potentially offensive vocabulary.
One 3 Six continued to fill their hour-long set with covers of hits from classic and contemporary rock, including "Rock You Like a Hurricane," by Scorpions, and "Come Together," by The Beatles. The sound of familiar and favorite songs continued to draw the attention of fairgoers; one toddler wearing a John Deere hat bounced happily in his stroller to the beat of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid".
The band also played the first original song they had written, entitled "Vast Majority." The song began with a flourish of guitar riffs. Then, Adam set up a steady 4-4 rhythm on the drums, and rest of the band joined him with heavy chords. The lyrics, sung by Deptal with harmony from Vikestad, decried the hypocrisy of people in power and proclaimed that it was "Time to make a stand - we represent the vast majority!"
The dramatic lyrics were reminiscent of statements from the protest group Occupy Wall Street as well as English rock band Muse's recent album, "The Resistance." Deptal acknowledged that Muse is among the band's influences, which also include the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Avenged Sevenfold and Van Halen.
One 3 Six concluded their set with two songs by Van Halen. Although the musicians were soaked with sweat by the time they finished playing, they played every song with high energy and said they were looking forward to playing again on Saturday afternoon.
For more local music, visit CODA Records on South Main Street in Bel Air or the upcoming Havre de Grace Seafood Festival Aug. 10-12.