Over the summer, unbeknownst to many in New Paltz, two bands formed. They were the Pink Gorillas and Blue Day Food Fighters. Both rock bands featured youngsters from age 12 to 14.
Both bands were also a part of the New Paltz Rock Experience — a summer camp to teach kids about rock ‘n’ roll.
Julian Baker, the coach, camp director and bassist for those bands, is getting ready to do it all again for the Experience’s fall sessions. “There was just so much good that came out of it,” Baker said.
During the summer, both groups started with kids who might have had a passing familiarity from seeing each other in class, but who mostly didn’t know each other. After a week, until the final recital, that changed. They ended up like old friends.
“It becomes a team — just like sport. You come to realize you’re working as a unit,” he said. “It felt like we had known each other for months not days.”
Both bands had the rough essentials — a singer, a keyboardist, a drummer and a guitar player. As the groups came together during the camp, he saw his students taking risks. Nervous musicians blossomed.
“This program is not just about putting on a show, playing a gig, playing some rock ‘n’ roll, but at the end of the day they discover something about themselves,” he said.
Both groups played in front of a group, playing a mix of music from the 1950s to the present day — a range meant to display the evolution of rock. But they also played what moved them. One group demanded that they play Nirvana and Green Day. The other ended up doing an Emerson, Lake & Palmer-style cover of Pachelbel’s Canon in D.
“It’s more about finding that instinct, that ability,” Baker said. “When you’re in a band, you realize that what you play matters. You’re a part of a team.”
The fall program has three month-long sessions that meet every Saturday and culminates with students doing a live show with their band in December.
Baker is known around town as the man behind Kids Rock New Paltz — a band for elementary-aged kids. New Paltz Rock Experience is more aimed at the middle school age range, but accepts musicians up to 17 years old.
Baker also teaches the history of rock at Marist College. Kids who enroll in the Experience can expect some lectures about the history of rock as well.
The director gave a lot of thanks to Keri Zurlini, the founder of Simply Create — the now defunct after-school creative center. Beloved by parents and kids, Simply Create helped foster the original Kids Rock New Paltz Group.
“Keri was really someone who allowed me to get my start,” he said.
The intention with New Paltz Rock Experience is to keep moving forward. “We want to grow this into something bigger,” he explained. “This is on a smaller level for now.”