Walla Walla youth music festival will benefit school music programs



Seated, Tim Laws, Abi Goularte and Jordyn Craig get ready to judge an audition in the Lincoln High School gym by a band called What The Heck, part of ongoing preparations for the Sweet Onion youth music festival in April outside the Walla Walla YMCA.


The Hope Girls, a singing trio of Sharpstein Elementary School fourth-graders - Jasmyn Maldonado, Daphne Collins and Carrie Seekamp - audition with the song "Give Us Hope."


Peter Salinas plays with his band What The Heck at Lincoln High School in a recent round of Sweet Onion Jam auditions.


From left, Laetitia Lehman–Pearsall, Jeremy Gradwohl and Amity Priore meet at Pioneer United Methodist Church to discuss details of the upcoming Sweet Onion Jam youth musical festival at the YMCA.

An idea a classic pianist and an indie band drummer hatched on a bus ride to Walla Walla will bring forth a youth music festival in April on the YMCA lawn.

The pianist is Laetitia Lehman-Pearsall, now studying with Walla Walla University music professor Leonard Richter. The drummer is Robby Seager, who plays with Dabbles in Bloom, a band of Whitman College students.

The festival, to be held April 15 from 2-5 p.m., is called the Sweet Onion Jam.

The event is for young musicians from elementary school through college who want an opportunity to perform. Set up like a talent show, the jam gives performers five minutes to play and the audience can donate a dollar per vote for their favorites.

The money will go toward supporting music programs and students in Walla Walla's public schools.

"We want to emphasize bringing people in the community together to celebrate something everyone loves," Lehman-Pearsall said, "and how important it is to give people a chance to play and share something that's important to them."

She credits Seager with the original idea for the event and the inspiration for the name.

"He just made it up," she said.

It happened when she was returning from Bainbridge Island and met Seager on the bus. The two had a conversation about a festival to celebrate as well as benefit music students.

Lehman-Pearsall, who is taking a year off from college and will enroll in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wis., this fall took up the idea and ran with it.

The festival welcomes all types of music, as long as the lyrics are family-friendly, PG rated, Lehman-Pearsall said. The event will also include performances by guest bands Dabbles in Bloom and Dayton's folk-indie band, The Lentil Brothers.

"It will be held out there rain or shine, so hopefully it doesn't rain," she said.

Partners in the project are the YMCA, the Lift after-school program at Lincoln High School, AmeriCorps and 123 Printing.

And many hands are now at work preparing for the festival.

Jeremy Gradwohl runs The Lift program, where students have been postering, making a video commercial, doing public service announcements, giving presentations at other schools and providing sound equipment for the event.

"My goal at Lincoln is to engage students through project-based learning," he said. "The K-13 music event to raise money for the schools was a natural fit for our students who are quite musically inclined."

Amity Priore of AmeriCorps said she and 20 other volunteers are doing a variety of things to promote the concert, including making posters, promo clips and speaking in the schools. They also came up with ideas for things music classes could use, from small maintenance items to larger purchases of instruments.

"None of us has organized such an event before so we have no way to predict how it will turn out. We can just hope for the best and have fun with it all," she said.

Lehman-Pearsall said the organizers have gotten a good response from the schools, the musicians and local businesses, many are donating prizes to be awarded at the festival.

A number of youths of various music styles also turned out for a round of auditions recently at Lincoln High School, with another round scheduled for March 24.

Lehman-Pearsall said she appreciates the caliber of musical talent in the area, and at age 20 also knows how difficult it is for a musician under 21 to find a place to play. Most venues are bars and there's an age limit.

The Sweet Onion Jam will be the third benefit concert Lehman-Pearsall has helped organize. In December 2010 she gave a concert for a food drive for Helpline House on Bainbridge Island. Admission was a can of food. Last June she performed in solos and with ensembles for donations to Island Music Center.

The jam is larger and more complicated than offering her own concerts, with more people coordinating efforts and more music acts to schedule.

"This is the biggest thing I've ever done," she said. "It's great to work with other people for a benefit, to get something done and to make something happen."

Karlene Ponti can be reached at 509-526-8324 or karleneponti@wwub.com


Auditions will be held noon-3 p.m. on March 24 in the Lincoln High School auditorium. You may send in an audio or video clip of your music. There is a nonrefundable sign-up fee of $5. For more information and to sign up, email llehmanpearsall@gmail.com. More information is also available at www.facebook.com/pages/Sweet-Onion-Jam/338317982863215.


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