Young Rockers Offer an Ode to Elders

By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 16, 2009

In a celebration of Woodstock's 40th anniversary Saturday, more than 120 musicians, all of them too young to vote, rocked the Mall with music from a bygone era. They performed for eight hours just south of the Washington Monument, channeling stars including Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane and wearing costumes cribbed, perhaps, from their parents' closets: tie-dye shirts, bell-bottoms and fringed leather vests.

"We do tell the kids to look 'rock.' And we tell them when they don't look 'rock,' " said Jeff Bollettino, owner of three local branches of the Paul Green School of Rock Music, whose students were Saturday's performers. "They have to go out and find their own look."

Daniel Peters, 15, sang lead vocals on the first two songs of the morning, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" by Iron Butterfly and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Suzie Q." For help with his look -- a black bandanna tied around his forehead and a red T-shirt bearing Hendrix's likeness -- the Ashburn teen turned to his grandparents.

"They lived back in Woodstock times," he said. "Everything was real loose then and real laid-back."

Daniel's grandfather, Manuel Ybarra Jr., who traveled from California for the concert, described himself as an "old-school rocker" who played in a blues band during the 1960s and '70s.

Before the concert, he offered his grandson advice. "I said pray, work the audience and use the mic stand as an instrument," he said. "It's not what you play, but how you play it."

And during the show?

"I started crying," said Ybarra, 58. "You see these kids performing, they can appreciate true art. It's like a Picasso or a Van Gogh -- music never gets old."

Backstage, musicians ranging from 8 to 17 waited their turn to perform, guzzling water and flirting with each other. Silver Spring rocker Adam Brentini, 12, plucked his guitar, demonstrating how to hook a thumb over the fret as Hendrix did. And like Hendrix, he wore his shirt unbuttoned and his curly hair long.

"I want to cut the hair," said his mother, Jacqueline Gill-Brentini, echoing parents of a previous generation. "But I got to let it be."

The vibe was more suburban culture than counterculture. Parents, armed with coolers of cold drinks and plenty of sunscreen, sat in folding chairs under the bright blue sky or manned digital video cameras mounted on tripods.

"We never miss his performances," Darah Scott of Woodbridge said of her 15-year-old son, drummer Dakota Shea. Shea sported tight red pants and longish, feathered locks for a style faintly Mick Jaggeresque.

The music drew more than family. District resident Letitia Johnson, 50, paused on her way to an exercise class to dance to a rendition of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train." And Sherry and Myron Olstein, who listened in the shade of trees, traveled from Falls Church for a taste of the past.

"I'm not necessarily a rock music fan," said Sherry Olstein, 67. "But I'd like to hear what someone would do with Janis Joplin."

The Olsteins were married in 1963. "The hippies were around. Communes sounded very interesting to us," Sherry Olstein said. "We felt a little bit of a tug, but we were a bit more established and were not ready to give that up."

The concert was an opportunity to experience a little of what they missed in 1969, minus the legendary traffic jams and biblical weather.

"We're not in the mud," she said, "and it's not raining!"

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