School of Rock All-Stars Tour
When: Friday, June 29, 6 p.m.
Venue: Hard Rock Cafe, 3771 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Age: All ages/ Bar 21+ with ID
Ten-year-old Kaelin Wilson might be Las Vegas’ youngest rock star. Sporting knee-high checkered Converse and silver streaks in her hair, the pint-sized performer grips the microphone and bobs her head as her band, Rifftide Legacy, launches into a cover of Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark.”
“Do your demons, do they ever let you go?” she snarls, pumping a leather-cuffed fist in the air.
She steps back to let guitarist Ian Rollwitz, 16, lead the band out with a shredding guitar solo.
“That was awesome,” Wilson says, grinning at her four bandmates.
She’s right. It was.
Wilson didn’t always have such rock star swagger. In fact, nine months ago, she could hardly look anyone in the eye.
“She was painfully shy when she first got here. She would barely say hi to me,” says Cammy Warden, general manager of the School of Rock in Summerlin, where Rifftide Legacy was formed. “It took her a long time to warm up, but now she’s like a little warden, bossing around 16-year-olds in rehearsal to help make the songs better.”
It’s a transformation Warden has seen many of her 150 students undergo since opening the School’s Las Vegas campus last October.
“Their hair is out of their face, they look you in the eye, they ask you how you are. It’s like watching a whole other person,” she says.
The national chain of schools offers kids and teenagers specialized instruction in rock and roll performance, with private and group lessons at a variety of levels. Instruction for adults is also in the works. Though the members of Rifftide Legacy only met a few months ago, they’ve already earned the title of house band and have performed numerous times in venues across town.
On Friday, they perform at the Hard Rock Cafe on the Strip as part of the School of Rock’s All Star Tour, which features the best students from around the country.
Gathered in a red rehearsal room adorned with Beatles and Sex Pistols posters, the tween- and teen-aged members of Rifftide Legacy speak with the ease and confidence of people twice their age.
“These guys really have become my family,” says 16-year-old vocalist and keyboardist Austi Martines, whose shaggy hair and playful ’tude behind the mic evoke her hero, Joan Jett . “It’s so much more than music classes. There’s an immediate bond that you can’t really find in your average high school. I’ve totally come out of my shell.”
Watching the band, which also includes drummer Sean Hall-Jaramillo and bassist Ethan Ritchie, both 14, rehearse, the chemistry is undeniable. They work in a shorthand of eye contact and gestures, adjusting tempos and levels, and grinning, but never flinching, at the occasional slip-up. In a break from the rock star stereotype, it’s clear that they’ve left their egos at the door.
“There’s no judgement here. It’s great because you’re matched with other people at your level. But even if someone is at a different level, you still want to help them, or you still feel comfortable asking someone better than you for advice,” says Hall-Jaramillo, whose exuberant, mile-a-minute banter matches his drumming style. “It’s ’cause we know we’re all here for the same reason.”
Warden, a longtime Las Vegas resident and former events planner, says that’s what inspired her to bring the program to town.
“These aren't the football players or hockey players, these kids don’t fit in with sports teams and things like that. I wanted to make an impact and have a place where kids can be safe and express themselves,” she says. “They’re not in someone’s garage drinking beers and getting high.”
Even the parents have bonded, often carpooling to rehearsals and performances and hanging out in the school’s lobby while their kids play.
This weekend, the school will open a professional-level recording studio as part of its expansion into music recording and production classes.
Warden is eager to challenge her students and bolster their confidence with top-of-the-line technology and marquee performance opportunities. However, she's still sure to impart one of the most important lessons a musician and young adult can learn: humility.
“They’ll do the fancy recording, they’ll play the Hard Rock, but I need to go make them play the Double Down soon so they know what they’re in for in the real world!” she says.