Jackson's VonAmp chosen as one of six youth bands to perform at benefit concert in New York

Thursday, October 7, 2010

When they take the stage Saturday night in New York City, they'll be treading the same stage Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley once did.

Not bad for four teens from Jackson.

Jackson band VonAmp hits the Big Apple as one of six bands on the bill for the Kids Helping Kids benefit at the East Village's landmark Webster Hall. A half-century ago, the hall served as the famous RCA live recording studio, home to rock, soul and folk legends like Charles, Sam Cooke, Dylan and Presley.

"The Show Me Center, we thought, was the biggest deal we've done so far, but actually going to New York makes you feel like you're going somewhere -- you're on a roll," said Taylor Barrett, 18, VonAmp's lead guitarist.

The band's star has been rising since its Show Me Center gig in 2009, when VonAmp -- then known as the Small Town Boyz -- opened for St. Louis alternative rockers Ludo. With a growing following of Jackson area teens and some ramped up traffic on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, in June VonAmp climbed to featured band status of the Youth Arts Forum, a national organization with a mission of "uniting the youth of the world through the arts." That showcase earned the band an invite to Saturday's benefit show, the brainchild of Youth Arts Forum. And that could lead to bigger and better things for this self-described band of brothers.

"Hopefully we'll get recognized by somebody," Barrett said.

The group got together at drummer Nik Scarpaci's family farm a few years ago. It was pretty loose back then. Barrett started jamming with Scarpaci, and Scarpaci was playing with lead singer and guitarist Tony Busey on the side. The three joined forces, and Barrett's younger brother, Collin, 11 at the time, came with his bass.

VonAmp draws from 1990s grunge groups like Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots as well as classic rockers like Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd that their dads grew up with.

VonAmp writes and records much of its music, including power ballads like "Ten Thousand Cities." The band plays a couple times a month, and puts in four days or more a week refining its sound.

"We practice a lot so we can get tighter and play bigger venues," said 15-year-old Scarpaci.

Busey said there's nothing like the rush he feels on stage, and that adrenaline keeps him coming back for more.

"It's really cool just doing what you love for a living and seeing it all play out like you dreamed it would," said Busey, 15, whose big voice belies his young age.

Busey said passion for the music and for the stage keeps the band going strong and away from rock's classic pitfalls -- alcohol, drugs, spontaneous combustion.

After the New York gig, VonAmp has an eye on winning a battle of the bands in Pinckneyville, Ill. The winner will open for hard rock band Head East later this month.

For more information on the band, visit www.vonamp.com.

mkittle@semissourian.com

388-3627

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