Rock for a Good Cause: On Stage with Ava and the Hitmen

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Meet some youngsters with soul who are ready to rock for a good cause.

story & photos by Maria Varonis

They may not have witnessed the birth of rock in the forties and fifties—or experienced its plaid phase in the nineties—but Ava and the Hitmen have soul stemming back from far before they were born.

On a recent Monday evening, I went to check out their rehearsal, expecting the coolest, cutest thing I had ever heard.

In his neon-shoes and khaki-colored corduroys, 11-year-old keyboardist Lawrence Saltis looked cool standing casually behind his Casio. Way cooler than I did at 11—perhaps way cooler than I do now, actually.

“I like being with drummers, guitarists, and jamming around, maybe doing a little blues sometimes,” Saltis said.

The band was the brainchild of nine-year-old drummer Luke Konopka and 11-year-old guitarist Eric Goldstein, both students at the Fairlawn School of Music, where they met and were rehearsing this evening.

Goldstein was tinkering with his pedal board. His baseball tee read: “RELAX,” in all caps.

Noted, I thought.

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Proud parents were all over the place, dropping their kids off, waiting in their cars in the parking lot. The pint-sized, 10-year-old front woman for the band, Ava Preston, was adjusting her mic as I spoke with her mom.

“She’s been singing since she was two or three,” Lisa Allison told me. When I asked if Lisa, herself, was musical, she adamantly claimed she was not the source of her daughter’s musical talent.

Katie Carver Reed, programs director of the school, warmly ushered me around.

“This is an actual garage band,” she said of Ava and the Hitmen, leading me into their rehearsal, “because this is actually a garage.”

The repurposed room was warm and clean, but maintained the minimalism and grit you would expect out of any young musician’s practice space.

Last to join Ava and her tiny musical henchman was 12-year-old bassist Fritz Dannemiller, the newest member of the team.

The Fairlawn and Hudson Schools of Music offer both group and private lessons in a variety of genres. When students show interest in teaming up, the schools and their coaches—successful musicians in their own right—are eager to give the children the technical instruction and real life lessons they need to make it as a band. This is how Ava and the Hitmen became a functioning unit.

Coaches Natalie Grace Martin and Jack McFadden looked in their element as they helped this mob of 9-12 year olds rehearse Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know.”

I was a little taken aback by all this. I knew it would be cute but I wasn’t expecting it to be excellent. Every cymbal hit. Every guitar riff. Every note Ava attempted and then conquered. This was a rock band and these were real musicians—just a bit shorter than most. Old pros at a young age.

On my way out, I told Ava, “You’re like a little Grace Slick, you know that?”

She smiled. “Thank you.”

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Fairlawn School of Music presents their 2nd annual Rock for a Good Cause, which benefits the Akron-Canton Foodbank’s Harvest for Hunger campaign. If they raise just $1000, they can provide 4,000 meals locally. You can chip in by attending to hear student bands like Ava and the Hit Men. Rock for a Good Cause Saturday, March 28 Musica 51 East Market Street, Akron Show starts at 4 p.m. Call 330-576-6527 or visit fairlawnschoolofmusic.com

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