High schoolers rock out at YMCA

Some head bang but most are wallflowers decorating the edges of the room while Hunter Degerness, left, and Michael Matson, center, dance Friday.

Some head bang but most are wallflowers decorating the edges of the room while Hunter Degerness, left, and Michael Matson, center, dance Friday. Photo by Matthew Zimmerman Banderas.

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The LOUD music streaming from the gym could seem like an “off” note to some, Andrew Sayers knows.

Here it was, late Friday night in Walla Walla, and the YMCA — not known for being overly boisterous at that hour — was jumping, alive with teens pushing, flailing, flipping their bodies and rocking out to the music of their peers.

This was the debut “Night of Rock,” at a place more known for racquetball courts and a swimming pool than as a venue for metal rock concerts. Yet four bands and more than 100 kids were laying claim for the evening, a time that’s been a long time in coming.

And it’s set to happen all over again this Friday, beginning at 9:30 p.m., for Night of Rock, Part 2.

A longtime youth pastor in the area, Sayers also teaches technology and music at the Y. In such positions, Sayers sees kids from every walk of life and knew that the need for this kind of event was out there, he said.

“I’ve been wanting this for seven years, to have this in a safe place.”

Where better than a place parents trust and kids already know about?

In this case, “safe” meant limiting the participants to kids in high school under the age of 18, having staff and AmeriCorps volunteers patrol diligently inside and out, and keeping two mosh pits separate — one for “push” and one for “hard core” dancing — the aforementioned flailing.

“Safe” meant not allowing middle-schoolers to join in until he can gauge the level of supervision needed, as well as keeping the night contained in the Y’s smaller gymnasium for better control, Sayers explained.

When the night was over, a lack of broken noses was one measure of success, he said, with a laugh. So was the number of metal music lovers who showed up, especially since Sayers put out the word through Facebook alone.

Others join him in attempting to build a teen music scene in Walla Walla. Brennan Springer, lead vocalist and manager of Amontillado’s Cask, has been pushing consistently for the same thing, trying to revive a local youth movement that has dwindled in the past few years, Sayers said. “It’s hard, especially in the winter months. There is just not anything for kids to do, no music scene at all. Some kids try to go to Tri-Cities or Spokane to see these kinds of shows, but most don’t have the $10 to go see them …they’ve either spent it on stupid stuff or drugs.”

To be sure, a certain percentage of teens in Walla Walla are going to try drugs and some will show up to concerts high, Sayers said. “But we’re not letting them be the standard. We’re showing them a higher standard. Say to them ‘Hey, you can have a rock concert and be clean.’”

The music can help build effective relationships to combat the negative, he hopes. “All in all, drugs are in the world, but so is positive change.”

It’s one reason he set the admission price low. “I tell them, ‘You have no excuse. It’s $2.’”

For less than the price of a fountain soda and a side of fries, teens can attend an event that feeds their senses and bodies. “A rock show gives them something to do physically. If they’re home, they’re just sitting there playing video games … and Facebook is just way too much of their lives.”

Nick Walsh is leader of Among the Ascending, a Christian-based band that favors metal music. The group played at the debut Night of Rock and plans to do so again on Friday.

At 19, he also has sought venues to get his message of faith to teens in a way that allows them to hear it, he said. “The main goal is to get Jesus out to the kids in the metal scene. They feel society has given up on them.”

The genre can look aggressive to some. There are kids who wear spikes around their neck and dance with abandon, Walsh conceded. “People can be nervous around them. It can scare older adults ... they lump them into a group of kids who are troublemakers.”

Yet the music itself “isn’t that bad” and the YMCA setting provides structure — plus a great sound system as a bonus — which served to keep violence at bay and the mood friendly, he said.

Adults in the community would be surprised at how many area teens are fans of metal music, Walsh believes. “Metal is coming out of the underground and those musicians are getting recognized for their musicianship. There is a stereotype of ‘no talent necessary,’ but that is changing, and I love seeing that.”

Whatever music is in the air, it’s good to see the YMCA being used by the community, Sayers feels. “Instead of the Y trying to be the community. If the kids take ownership of this, it can grow bigger than them.”

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