Maryville Rock Academy, ‘Pursuit 14:1’ target all-ages concert-goers
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Take a walk through any high school in Blount County (with permission, of course), and one thing becomes abundantly clear: Teens love music.
Ear buds and headphones are accessories pulled from pockets and backpacks whenever class isn’t in session. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, more than 18 percent of all music purchased between 1998 and 2008 was done so by those younger than the drinking age.
As voracious as the musical appetites of young people are, however, there are few places for them to see it performed live in Blount County. Aside from the occasional concert at the Clayton Center for the Arts or all-ages shows put together randomly at places like the Alnwick Community Center, there is no venue that caters to an all-ages crowd with shows on a regular basis.
But that’s about to change.
This weekend, the Maryville Rock Academy, located on West Broadway Avenue a stone’s throw from Maryville High School, will kick off a series of intimate performances at the music school that are open to adults and kids alike. The transformation from rock ‘n’ roll institute to all-ages venue has been a gradual process, co-owner Robyn McCammon, wife of instructor/co-owner Neil McCammon, told The Daily Times this week.
“We officially sponsor the (local) band Divided We Stand, and they pushed us for months to let them play here,” McCammon said. “They kept telling us that they have fans of all ages, but the only place for them to play is at bars. So we said OK, let’s do it and well see how it goes. It was a small show, and we didn’t advertise very much.”
The evening of the show, however, the parking lot was full. It was the biggest crowd the business, which opened in September 2010, had seen at one time. The main room, which can accommodate up to 30 people, was full; almost immediately, McCammon said, she and her husband started discussing ways to capitalize on the show’s success and put on more concerts. They posed the query to their Facebook page, and the response was immediate — 40 bands contacted them, eager to play.
“It was insane,” she said.
But the idea fits well with the school’s operating premise, she added.
“We try to customize our lessons based on the student’s musical interest,” she said. “Whatever the student wants to learn, we feel that’s the quickest and best way for them to learn and to stay motivated. We have students of all ages – we’ve taught from ages 5 to 65 – and we teach electric/acoustic guitar, bass, drums and vocals; and we’re looking for a keyboard teacher. And the philosophy for all of that is to teach based on the student.”
The McCammons and their business partners have gone through proper channels with the city of Maryville and have filed paperwork and filled out permits to bring in a capacity crowd for the shows. And if the audience fills up the main room, they have a plan: A live feed will pipe the show to the downstairs area, and there are speakers set up to broadcast it outdoors as well.
“If we get a huge crowd, it can be all over the building,” McCammon said.
Right now, the MRA has shows booked for the entire month of April. April, she added, will be a trial run; if the response warrants it, the shows will continue.
In addition to offering a place for young people to see music at a nominal cost (the average cover charge will be $5), the McCammons want to promote the Maryville Rock Academy as a bastion of original music, she said.
“So many venues want cover music,” she said. “We have great venues in the area, and the bars are awesome, but there’s no place for a band to really be the focal point. At a bar, they’re playing to a crowd of people coming out to party and drink and hang out; there’s no real place for people to go just as fans.
“Not only are we drawing bands like Divided We Stand, but we have everything from very explicit hip-hop to EmiSunshine, this 7- or 8-year-old girl who’s going to play here with her family. It’s a huge deal to be able to say it’s all ages, it’s in the middle of town and it’s safe.”
Safety is paramount at another all-ages concert series scheduled to begin in April — “Pursuit 14:1,” which will take place at Riverside Theater in Rockford. It’s a combination ministry and rock ‘n’ roll night that will be held once a month, and it’s the brainchild of local singer-songwriter and youth worship leader Grady Milligan and Riverside owner Caryn Geren.
“Caryn had been looking for some time now to create some sort of ‘God rocks’ program, a concert venue-style ministry,” Milligan said. “She wanted to put together a space for everyone to come whether you’re there for Christ and the devotion time at the end of the show, or because good bands are playing and you want to leave when the worship time starts.
“We want to create a place where you’re welcome either way, and no one’s going to come down on you. But at the same time, it’s going to be a very active ministry.”
All-ages Christian shows have taken place in Blount County in the past, most notably at houses of worship — Heritage Bethesda Church of God, for example, or Smoky View Baptist Church. But setting up something like “Pursuit 14:1” at a neutral location will serve to bring in secular music fans who might be wary of attending a rock show at a church, Milligan said.
“We wanted to make something that was active,” he said. “At the end of every show — and during the show, because the bands will be relaying a message that’s purposeful as well — we’ll have time for devotion, where you can get to know people and know their struggles.”
Organizers want to market “Pursuit 14:1” to area youth groups as well. As an intern youth leader at First United Methodist Church of Maryville on Montvale Station Road, he knows firsthand the difficulties of planning outings for a group of young people that engages them but provides entertainment that’s both safe and spiritually pure.
“It’s really hard to find someplace new or exciting to take kids to, so planning events are the hardest thing sometimes,” he said. “If local churches and youth groups know that there’s going to be an awesome concert that never costs more than $5 per person and all they have to do is drive their bus full of people there because we take care of everything, then that’s a gold mine in terms of what you plan for a youth group.
“Other things are way more expensive, and there are a lot of forms to fill out. We want to make something for everyone — from random people who just want something to do that day to a group of 50 people from a church. And we want to make it an awesome production.”
The inaugural edition of “Pursuit 14:1” will take place April 28; featured bands include OnTheBrightSide and The Turncoats, and for the first month, admission will be free. Audience members will be questioned, feedback will be encouraged and the series will launch in earnest in May.
By that point, Milligan said, the program should be good to go, and young people, as well as the adults who care for them, should realize how committed organizers are to a successful and safe event.
“No one will ever feel unsafe there,” Milligan said. “Youth leaders will always be there, and me and Caryn will always be watching out. If a youth or adult is doing something they shouldn’t, we’ll ask them to leave. We will not allow anything that will compromise anyone’s trust in us.”