Camp Rock

The Boulder YMCA is getting kids amped on music.

"It's obvious that a lot of these kids would not have hung out together before being in this program," Betcher says, "but everyone's become real supportive of each other. Everybody has room to express themselves; everybody has equal floor time. I just want kids to meet other kids who have common interests and then jam out and make something new."

"I also try to point out to them that music is a lifestyle you can have. It's a really good way to set goals," McDermott adds. "That's an important thing to show kids. If they just want to sit around aimlessly and play video games and do nothing, that's fine, I guess, but we're trying to show them there's something more. I don't know where I would be today if I hadn't gotten involved in music."

The campers are getting ready for their final performance after five days of riffing and writing and arranging and rehearsing. The folding chairs are set up, coolers of pop and bags of cookies busted open, and videocam lenses are blinking as parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and little brothers and sisters file in. Sneakers squeak on the hardwood as the kids nervously rearrange their gear.

Gee mom, I want to make noise: Aaron Betcher and 
Dan McDermott of Garage Rock 101.
Mark Manger
Gee mom, I want to make noise: Aaron Betcher and Dan McDermott of Garage Rock 101.

Up first is Brisant. Its one song -- instrumental and untitled -- is quite a bit louder than the older folks were expecting, but everyone is rapt. Pantea bends her head down as she plays, trying hard not to mess up. Here and there she misses a string or fumbles a change, but as raw and untrained as it is, the sound is haunting. Finally, as drums crash and the last chord leaks away in a trail of distortion, she yells in frustration at her own playing -- and it almost sounds like a part of the song. The studio erupts in stunned applause. This is no school band recital or church choir -- this is rock.

Next up is Cucumber, and the seven-piece rips through its pop-punk tunes with sloppy excitement. Four guitars plus two drum kits equals a whole lot of racket, but even the grandmas are grooving in their chairs. And as they begin getting comfortable on stage, the kids start playing solos and striking poses and flipping their hair.

Cook stands in the middle with a blank look on his face that could be the result of well-studied rock-star indifference -- or maybe fear. After the group's second number ends, he shyly takes the mike, looks out over his sea of adoring fans and says, "This is our last song. It's called 'Never Steal From a Candy Store.'"

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