Spartans on School of Rock summer tour

David Donlon (12) is captured playing a gig at Cincinnati with joy on his face from finally being photographed as a professional performing artist. The School of Rock tour spent time and energy making their setup appealing to spotlight their artists.

The wildly chaotic stereotypes in movies like Project X and SuperBad make senior year out to be a wild ride. In reality, most people aren’t going to be able to jump off a three story roof into a bounce house, or shoot bottles with drunk cops, ‘fooled’ by a fake ID that makes you look like a “future pedophile.” However, going on a week-long band tour across the South in a bus full of 13 young rock stars definitely pushes the bounds of reality and a movie. 

David Donlon (12) and Xander Sinclair (11) took to the road on July 9 and came back July 16 with increased confidence in themselves as musical artists. Under School of Rock, they traveled as part of the Memphis house band along with the Germantown house band. Their bus drove them to seven gigs chaining between Atlanta, GA, Charlotte, NC, Knoxville, TN, Covington, KT, Louisville, KY, St. Louis, MO and Bentonville, AR. The set list was a forty-song mix of hard rock and soul funk, pulling songs from bands like The Arctic Monkeys, Alice in Chains and Led Zeppelin. The rock gods were definitely behind them, breezing the strum of a pick in the right rhythm and pumping those drum sticks down almost through the batter heads. 

Donlon has been playing the guitar for three years. He first picked it up and did not want to become the guy with a guitar collecting dust, having not been touched since grandma gave it to him last Christmas. So, he fully committed to learning it since nothing else had interested him before. And god bless sweet ole’ grandma for that double dip into her retirement money. During the tour, Donlon shreds the strings with euphoric solos and his sweet rhythm. 

“Almost every movie following a big band, if not in the first scene, is going to show them jogging out on stage and everyone goes crazy,” Donlon said. “That is the closest thing to actually being on stage. We’re not playing at super huge venues. But, if you have a bunch of people at the front, you see that they’re really having a good time and appreciating the music you’re making. It makes me feel like I’m doing something right.”

When performing their hard hitters like the Beastie Boys’ “Root Down,” everybody on stage went wild, flailing every free limb they had, amplifying the energy between each other and out into the venue. Immediately the crowd mobbed towards the stage, trying to get as close as possible to the source of this tremoring vocal bliss. Soon enough everyone’s sweaty shirts came flying off and it became like a scene from some chaotic tribal dance at the bottom of a twilighted cave. 

“Pretty much every time we played that song, everyone’s shirts would go off,” Donlon said. “It’s funny because like we are not all supermodels. And people who are usually hesitant to take their shirt off didn’t. Like, I don’t take my shirt off easily, but I was having such a good time that I didn’t care. It’s just funny and fun.”

However, Donlon is more attracted to softer blues guitar melodies. By the ears of a guitarist, it’s much more impressive to play a complex rhythm than “shredding” with no sense of articulation. However, most of the songs the band performed were harder rock, Donlon still managed to work in his own creativity in how he plays. He takes notes from how the father of  his favorite  guitarist Jimi Hendrix played scales, implementing that technique into his own performances.

Sinclair is also a passionate artist; playing the drums serves as a pillar in his life. He even has a sound-proof room in his house full of instruments so that he can commit all the time he has to music. Sinclair takes such a serious tone towards music that he treated this tour like a battle of the bands. Comparing each set to the next looking for a spark in motivation.

“We would see some groups that were pretty trash, but we would also see some that were pretty good, really good, like insane, like dumbfounded,” Sinclair said. “But we were still at the top of the food chain”

Sinclair wants a challenge. He desires something he cannot begin to touch even as the talented musician he is today. School of Rock also does an All-Star tryout for the members of the house bands. Sinclair got in and traveled to Miami to record songs for a corporate YouTube channel. That trip gave him the chance to bathe in the aura of such talented musicians guiding him. 

“Most of us are seniors and juniors in the [Memphis] house band,” Sinclair said. “So, it’s like an outlet for our older, more advanced musicians to still get something out of [the music world], to go for bigger and better opportunities.” 

Bigger and better opportunities is exactly what this summer tour accomplished. Donlon had already been in a few bands before, so he was not new to live performances. What it did show him, though, was the rush of tour life. They had to stick to a strict schedule, monitoring their sleep and eating on a timer, all so they could make it from city to city in time with no breaks. Yet, the entire experience of preparing to play gigs in big cities was a relief itself. He was taught what it is like to travel in a band and slowly build that connection with each other and audiences.

“It is something that you don’t really get to experience as much, or not the same at least, playing locally,” Donlon said. “And if you plan to do music in the future, it’s something you are going to have to do again.”