Long Live Rock School

Hey kids! Dave Simon's music academy can transform you from a painfully shy teen to a guitar-slinging badass! Even your parents will approve!

Covelli declined to comment about the Rock School or his relationship with Simon.

But Simon says that after "about six months of some serious healing," he and Covelli reconciled. "People always say, 'Don't mix business with family and friends.' I totally get it now," he says. "I understand how important that is."

While he professes to prefer his front-office duties to teaching and directing bands, more often than not Simon can be found dashing off to observe or instruct, sometimes filling in when an instructor has to miss work. And it's a role he clearly relishes.

Introducing Rock School's newest all-star band: The Junior Mints onstage at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room.
Jennifer Silverberg
Introducing Rock School's newest all-star band: The Junior Mints onstage at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room.
Jennifer Silverberg

"Sometimes it's a little weird when I'm here on a Saturday all day with kids," Simon confesses. "Then my wife and I go out with a couple like us, with kids and a house" — the Simons have a two-and-a-half-year-old son, Levi — "and we have to talk 'adult talk.' And I'm like, 'So what bands are you guys into?'"

Marcie Kalina is pacing. "I'm so nervous!" says the mother of Rock School student Adam Kalina, one of many anxious parents who, along with siblings and friends, have filled Blueberry Hill's Duck Room for the Rock School's version of a piano recital. To the strains of U2's "Beautiful Day," Dave Simon walks onstage and greets the crowd: "We just let our hair down, shave it off and play some great rock & roll tunes!"

Danny Magruder's group, Hardly Davidson, starts off with Guns N' Roses' "Paradise City," which strains the falsetto skills of curly-haired vocalist Alex Guenther. Better is their take on U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday," buoyed by Kim Anderson's confident, almost swaggering, guest vocals — and Simon's unobtrusive, offstage bass lines. The band's boyish ADD disappears; Magruder's studied concentration and Kalina's steady, forceful drumming betray no sign of nerves.

Mood Swings also perform well, their perma-smiles a perfect match for the upbeat tempo of their blink-182-meets-"99 Red Balloons" original, "The Bad Decision." A reggae-tinged original, "Pay the Fool," later segues fluidly into the Go-Go's "We Got the Beat," featuring synchronized guitar-and-bass moves from the front line. Like consummate professionals, they don't forget to announce that they have T-shirts for sale and a MySpace page.

But it's the Junior Mints who bring down the house, in no small part because expectations are high. Simon introduces the set as "bittersweet. This is their last show as a concert band. They're moving up to [be] an all-star band."

Only a week after their wobbly rehearsal, the Mints crank up the charm. The shuddering, dinosaur-amble riffs of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" are matched only by Blake Stumpf's howls. The newest member of the band psyches up his bandmates like a seasoned leader, tossing off guitarist intros during a bridge, shouting-out Ely Thayer's stick-spinning drum solo and singing the towering "Sunshine" chorus with conviction, eyes reverently closed. By the time Claire Holohan's taut, thrumming bass lines announce a cover of the Raconteurs' "Steady as She Goes," the Mints are all feeding off one another's energy. Morgan Trapp is immersed to the point of occasional headbangs. Stumpf stomps to the beat, then spurs a band-wide improv at the end. The performance isn't perfect, but the Duck Room audience knows it's seeing an all-star band being born.

With Rock School's survival no longer a daily anxiety-producer, Dave Simon has more time to ponder the future of his business — but very few definite directions.

"There's two issues: How does the school acclimate to the literal growth, the numbers. And then, where is this whole thing going?" he posits, then responds to his own questions with more questions: "What is everyone working toward? Is it to franchise out? Is it just to do this one location, a couple locations here in town? Is the program what it is right now, is this pretty much it? Are there going to be whole new programs we haven't tapped into yet? I don't know."

But as the Duck Room empties and families depart for celebratory dinners or run off to other activities, Simon lets worry fade into the background.

"It's really hard for me to appreciate it entirely, what it's given these kids," he says. "It's usually — after a show, I'm passed out on the couch watching Saturday Night Live, thinking, 'Wow, what a cool thing: these kids. What a cool thing they experience and what a cool day job I have.'"

Kids, says Simon, are the only ones who can truly live the rock & roll dream, the rock & roll fantasy. They have no responsibilities. They live at home; they don't have to think about money. They can obsess over rock stars 24-7.

"I value their opinion so much more than anyone else's, 'cause they are the rock & roll generation," Simon finishes. "I listen to rock music 'cause it makes me feel good, but it also makes me feel young. Rock & roll is always about the youth."

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