Waco Music and Fun: 26th Street!
When my 13-year-old son came home from school one day last year and told me he and some friends had formed a rock band, I was skeptical. We had tried violin lessons in third grade and guitar lessons a few years later — and bought all the equipment that goes with it. But it wasn’t until he found his own path to music with friends that he started having fun and wanting to spend his spare time practicing his instrument.
The band is made up of Jackson Anderson (lead guitar), Spencer Davis (keyboard), Analisa Villarreal (lead vocals), George Eichenberg (bass) and John Paul Bustamante (drums). They have taken the name “26th Street” because they practice in John Paul’s grandparents’ garage on 26th Street in Waco. They play everything from classic rock to modern to country.
With the birth of 26th Street, I started to see less TV time and more creativity flowing — and with that I saw a sense of accomplishment, pride and a love of something all his own. He was excited to show me the more complicated bass line of “Hotel California,” which he had spent hours perfecting. And I was hearing the same from the other parents.
They began playing at some friends’ birthday parties and at a local yogurt shop, where they had a friend willing to let them play on the patio for tips.
As they worked and got better, crowds of cheering friends and family showed up to watch them play. Eventually even folks who weren’t there just to be nice started showing up. Then, they started getting paid gigs at places like El Chico, who promoted them with posters and emails. People started asking them for photos, business cards and Facebook page, which they now have. They are making money, coordinating their own schedules, working with business owners and learning to be responsible and deliver a quality product: their music. Their summer is sprinkled with gigs that include everything from a quinceanera to a museum fundraiser — and they love contributing to the local music scene.
One of the best parts is that the Waco community has been very welcoming. The band has played at El Chico, Slippery Minnow, Valley Mills Vineyard, The Gin in Belton and other parties and events. In May, they were named the Music Association of Central Texas’ “Horizon” award winner for up and coming artists.
The band practices once a week in the garage on 26th street, and I think the kids look forward to this time together, creating, collaborating, and making music. As a parent, I can’t think of anything I’d rather my kid be doing. And the funny thing is, it was all their idea, not ours. The parents provide support – sometimes lots of support – but the kids and their music are in the driver’s seat.
The other 26th Street parents and I are proud of our kids. As Erin Davis, mom of Spencer Davis, the keyboard player, says. “It’s deeply rewarding to see our kids work so hard and be recognized in the local music scene.” They are building up a sense of responsibility and self-worth. They are taking risks. They are making a personal investment in something they care about. They are learning habits and skills that will serve them well throughout the rest of their lives. One of the most important skills they are learning is how to make their own fun!
Waco and other towns our size can sometimes suffer from a general misperception, especially regarding young people, that “there’s nothing to do.” One thing that 26th Street can teach all of us is that there is always something to do if you know how to make your own fun. In fact, the fun you make yourself can be better, and better for you, than the fun that is delivered ready-made. Imagine how much more fun our kids are having being in a band than they would ever have just by paying to go see bands. Imagine how much more benefit they are getting from this experience.
Whether it’s music or something else, there are lots of things kids can do in Waco to have fun, get involved in the community, make friends, learn crucial life skills and even in some cases earn some money: start a band, start a business, find some regular volunteer “employment.” Parents, this will take some subtlety on your part, but try not to buy in if you hear your kids saying, “there’s nothing to do.” Find a subtle way to suggest, inspire and encourage something – and let them run with it. Then – when they are running – cheer like crazy and invite your friends and the whole community to do the same.
Gretchen Eichenberg is a life-long Wacoan and local high school newspaper and yearbook adviser. There’s nothing she’d rather be doing more than cheering on her favorite softball player or jamming to the tunes of her son’s band. Her family includes husband, Alex, and kids George, 14, and Brigitte, 11, and an energetic Lab named Luke, who thinks he rules the HOT Dog Park.