Wannabe Rock Stars Exude Passion At St. Petersburg Music Factory

The drummer (not the drum) is 10 years old. The keyboard player and singer is 11. Both the guitarist and bass player are 13. But you wouldn't guess it simply listening to the sound coming from the St. Petersburg Music Factory stage, where student band Horseplay is belting out the song "Hush'' from Deep Purple.   

Rock' n Roll is alive and well at the locally owned Music Factory, where young people can "learn, play and rock'' in the style of legends like Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, Cheap Trick and the Doors.

Marty Fouts, co-owner of the St. Petersburg Music Factory, jumps around the stage, keeping time with his whole body, stepping in to make corrections and encouraging the young musicians to pump up the volume and just let it go. 

The boys in the band are clearly having a great time. Look around and see that lots of girls also drum, play guitar and sing in one of the many bands the music factory sponsors.

In addition to being a fun outlet for kids who love music and performing, Founts points out that playing in a band can offer some unexpected benefits. It fosters teamwork, cooperation, confidence and collaboration, sort of a team sport for kids who don't enjoy baseball, football or soccer.

Then there are also those experts who say that music instruction can enhance creativity, problem solving, innovation and focus -- skills that can go hand-in hand with learning science, technology, engineer and math, the STEM courses that are very much top-of-mind in education these days.

Turning STEM Into STEAM

R.J. Keeling, the drummer in the band Horseplay, got his first drum set at age 3. "When he was 5, we bought him his first adult acoustic drum set,'' says his mother Shonna Bedford, who is also a musician and takes lessons at the Music Factory. 

"R.J. was always drumming on everything,'' says Bedford. "We wanted to find a place that would foster his gift. He started here about 2 years ago. We tried him in soccer, but he just wasn't interested in organized sports.''

Nick Celli, Horseplay's keyboard player and singer, is just completing the fifth grade at Perkins Elementary School's art magnet program. He's been playing violin since third grade and also plays the steel drum. Now he's developed a passion for rock 'n roll, says his father Phil Celli, a former TV videographer and the owner of Pro Vocus Video.

Celli is also the co-owner of the St. Petersburg Music Factory with Founts.  The two bought the former Rock n 'Roll Blues Academy from Dave Shepard last year. Shepard had moved out of the Tampa Bay region and was selling the long-time music school. Fouts, who had been an instructor at the academy, was keeping the program open, but not sure how long he could continue.

"After I saw what Marty was able to accomplish with the kids, I thought 'Wow, what an amazing concept this is here,' '' says Celli. "Then when I heard the business was for sale, I thought what a shame it would be if it closed down.''

Celli approached Fouts about buying the business together and the two put together a business plan. One drawback -- the space housing the music program was in a need of serious repair. But after a few months of negotiations, building repairs and the relocation of the music studio to another spot within the same building, the two were ready to go. The school re-opened in January of this year with a new name and a new logo.

Performing At Local Venues

In addition to private or group lessons in guitar, bass, drums, piano and keyboard, students can participate in one of the rock bands geared to their age and level of experience. Student band showcases are held regularly at area venues such as Ferg's Sports Bar and The Local 662.

Younger students, ages 6 to 9, can participate in Kids Rock!, which introduces them to music basics and includes ukulele lessons, which can be easier for small fingers to play than the guitar. The school provides all instruments or students can bring their own. A newly launched Rock Band summer camp includes lessons, a grand finale concert and a recording session at Zen Recording.

Celli is also putting together a program for foster youth through the Clearwater-based Directions for Living.

"When we bought the music school we knew we wanted to do something to give back to the community,'' says Celli. "One of the great things about music is it gives you a skill for life, especially if you start taking lessons when you're young. We decided that we wanted to give a small number of interested foster youth an opportunity to have this experience -- to take lessons, develop their talent and enjoy being part of our music program.''

And just to be sure that they've reached out to every segment of the community, the St. Petersburg Music Factory also hosts open mic night every Thursday at Everything Dolce. Sidney Tran, 18, a long-time student at the music factory, coordinates the event, acts as the emcee and often plays his own original music.

Regardless of your age, if you've been nurturing a secret, hidden talent, or looking for a public venue to perform your music, this is it, says Celli.

Janan Talafer is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, FL, who shares a home office with her dog Bear and two cats Milo and Nigel. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.
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