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Teens rock at RHHStival

The Baltimore Sun

Just days before their performance at RHHStival, members of Combat Funk are working hard preparing for - midterms.

Ah, the life of being an aspiring recording artist in high school.

Combat Funk is the closest thing to a veteran at RHHStival, an annual music event featuring county bands that takes place Friday at River Hill High School. The four-member group of 16-year-old River Hill juniors - they play a mix of 1970s funk music and alternative rock - has performed there the past two years.

"It was our introduction to the bigger picture," said Evan Bery, the band's lead singer, who also plays guitar. "It was an introduction to the type of opportunities we could have in high school."

RHHStival, which debuted in 1999, is to the Howard County youth rock scene what the Sundance Film Festival is to Hollywood.

"It's an opportunity for our nontraditional musicians to be showcased and highlighted in the community," said organizer M. Joseph Fischer, who is also the director of bands at River Hill. "We're unveiling 11 different garage bands throughout the county in a showcase that is all about them."

Each band is scheduled to perform for 30 to 45 minutes, in the River Hill auditorium or gymnasium.

"This might be the first time that they have this type of experience," Fischer said of the professionally lighted stages. "This is their 15 minutes of fame. They get to show off their hidden rock star."

Matt Sheckells, lead guitarist for the band Yes Yes No, and his five-member group hope to build on the momentum they achieved after playing at The Other Barn in Oakland Mills and Recher Theater in Towson.

"We wanted to get some publicity and get people to listen to us," said Sheckells, a 15-year-old sophomore at Centennial whose bandmates attend Centennial, Howard and Oakland Mills high schools. The group, which gets inspiration from bands such as Modest Mouse and Radiohead, formed after several members attended karate classes together.

Bands are chosen for RHHStival after submitting a sample of their original music to a small group of judges led by Fischer. This year, judges chose 11 bands from among 18 applicants.

"One of the things we are trying to promote is original music," Fischer said. "We ask for enough music to give us an accurate sense of their band."

The event is popular among county bands, according to Fischer, who has worked with the event for five years.

"It's something that is looked forward to each year," he said. "I get calls well before we start advertising."

The performers take the event seriously. Just ask some of this year's participants, who have had to balance midterm exams with last-minute practices.

Bery's bandmate Nick Woodhouse describes the dilemma as a "moral test."

"It all comes down to time management and what you think is right," said Woodhouse, a guitarist who caught a break this week because of a "lenient" midterm schedule.

"I've been trying to practice our newer songs while trying to remember our older ones," he said. "Guitar is getting the majority of my attention this week."

Bery, Woodhouse and bandmates Mike Brophy and Nik Sinha look forward to the RHHStival because it is an opportunity for musicgoers outside the River Hill community to appreciate their music.

"There are so many people cheering you on," Bery said. "It's so energizing."

Woodhouse loves the exposure.

"More and more people are coming out every year," he said. "People are able to check you out."

Woodhouse also relishes his group's veteran status. This year, Combat Funk will perform at 8:30 p.m. in a "prime time slot," according to Woodhouse. The group performed at 6:30 p.m. its first year.

"We were surprised to play for 15 people," Woodhouse recalled. "As years progress we get to play for more and more people."


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