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The First Big Gig


Rock star mythology dictates that you only get into it for The Music.

But if that were true, bands wouldn't form until everyone mastered their instrument. As things go, technical skill frequently ranks behind stage presence, attitude and access to your parents' garage.

Having a part in a band, especially in high school, allows you to carve an identity outside the traditional options. So you're not an athlete or a brain? Then try rock star on for size.

It's tough to believe that Dan Hammond, 18, was in football when he started El Modena High in Orange four years ago. His Maynard G. Crebs chin fluff, bleached hair and punk-dude demeanor class him more in the weird-kid category than with the jocks.

Dan picked up a guitar in his freshman year. Then the bass player in his friend's band quit. So, as the story goes with most bass players, Hammond dropped the six strings for four.

Keeping the rhythm appealed to him more anyway, he now realizes: "I have more fun with a bass than a guitar."

Indeed, Dan has even picked up on--although he admits to it hesitantly--the attraction some fans have to bassists. His girlfriend, a senior at Mater Dei, did happen to mention it.

(And I always hoped it was a coincidence that in high school I kept falling for guys who played bass.)

Dan vehemently denies that being in a band got him the babe. But he adds: "I met her when I was in this band, Janitor, last year. She was going out with the guitar player."


Janitor was Dan's third band. He's also been in Crack Babies and Lumberjack. On Saturday, his current band, Phabio, performed on the high school stage at the Independent's Day '94 festival at Irvine Meadows.

The stage, located near the entrance, stood far, far away from the four main stages featuring 60 local alternative music acts. It was even a walk from the other nearest stage showcasing ska bands. But promoters intended to give bands with high school members a spotlight other than the coffeehouse and house party circuit they're generally limited to.

The gig catapulted Dan and his band/classmates, Justin Poysner and Garrett Driscoll, into campus celebrities. (Their fourth member, Chris Wellman, 19, is a freshman at Rancho Santiago College.) Some friends printed stickers. A couple of dozen paid the $15 ticket price into the music festival.

Until then, Phabio, a punk band that interweaves ska and metal influences, had limited its appearances to one party a month. Those shows were executed as hard and fast as the music, what with cops minutes away and ready to bust the fun. Of course, they'd only been together four months, so that only added up to four real gigs.

At Independent's Day, "Why are you in a band?" became the requisite question to the teen musicians. Would anyone have the insight--heck, the bravery--to agree with my premise that their passion includes hopes of stardom?

"Because I love the music," each drummer, each guitarist and each bassist replied.

"Isn't that enough?" asked Trust 31's drummer John Kirby, an Esperanza High senior. The punk band's name refers to the "31 guys under Nixon who were arrested during Watergate," says the 17-year-old from Yorba Linda.

"Have fun and party hearty," Donald Terrell, another Esperanza senior, gives as his reason. The guitarist for Clean X, Terrell says he wouldn't want to see his name in lights. Then he admits: "If I can make this a full-time career, sure I'd do it."

Unsigned to any label, Clean X already has distributed 500 of its homemade tapes and dozens of baseball caps with its name embroidered on the front.

Phabio drummer Justin takes a simpler stand: "I'm in a band. That's all. I just play music." The introspective 17-year-old took up an instrument when Phabio started.

"I've always wanted to play drums," says Justin, leaving the "why" part unanswered. He says he's not a particularly good dancer, but sitting down he can keep the beat line. "I play good enough."


It's 2 1/2 hours after Phabio was scheduled to play, but they still haven't struck a note. In fact, all seven of the high school bands on the bill are no longer playing at the times scheduled. The concert promoters, Taurus Enterprises, have apparently forgotten about them.

At their small stage, there are no lights, no amplifiers, no sound boards, no microphones. The bands were told not to bring any equipment except for guitars, bass, sticks, cymbals and any special effects.

Not surprisingly, the indignity deflates their enthusiasm. This wasn't the day of glamour these young musicians envisioned.

Justin assumes "The Thinker" pose. Chris goes off to the side to fiddle with his guitar. Dan joins his friends in kicking around a hacky sack.

"I think they slacked on us because we're from high school," says Garrett, 17, Phabio's lead guitarist. "But we should have gotten the same treatment as everyone else. I mean, I was a little bummed out when I saw the stage. I was expecting something a little bigger with lights. Now we're waiting and the crowd's all waiting for us."

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