Tommy Lawless, 13, sings “Sunshine of Your Love” as he plays with the band Extra Thick n Crunchy during the Britt Rock Camp in Jacksonville Wednesday. - Jamie Lusch

For those about to rock

It's three minutes before up-and-coming Southern Oregon rockers Extra Thick n Crunchy take the stage, and a crisis is brewing. The band's having sound-check problems, and nothing seems to be working. Wires, amps and speakers are all in a jumble, the keyboardist just disappeared and the bass player hasn't been seen at all.

Suddenly, the day is saved. Keyboardist Austen Anderson runs back onstage with more cables and the sound board confusion is quickly cleared up. The band, minus its usual bass player, starts to jam a little before moving into a cover of Cream's 1967 hit "Sunshine of Your Love."

This wasn't a real concert, however. Instead it was a practice session by one of the bands at the Britt Rock Camp, being held this week in Jacksonville.

This is the Britt Festival's first rock camp, and is mainly run out of the old Jacksonville Courthouse. The camp features specialized instruction in playing rock guitar, bass, drums, vocals and keyboard, and is aimed at musicians ages 13-17. Some exceptions have been made to include students as young as 11 and as old as 18. In all, 32 students are attending this year's camp.

The admission fee for the camp was $300, but financial aid was available. Most students were required to bring their own instruments and all needed to have at least an intermediate skill level.

In addition to band lessons and tutoring, the camp also includes access and tickets to see some of the Britt Festivals' musical lineup. On Tuesday night, many of the students went to see The Decemberists' performance in Jacksonville, and on Wednesday, Sara Bareilles' show on the Britt stage. Wednesday afternoon's camp members attended Bareilles' sound-check for that night's concert.

When not at concerts, students are taught at both the band and on the individual instrumental level. Instructors specialize in individual instruments and bring years of experience to their craft.

Instructor Jeff Pevar, a guitarist who has worked with the likes of David Crosby, Ray Charles and Jefferson Starship, said that teaching was a new experience for him, but one he has enjoyed.

"I'm self-taught, and it's such a huge responsibility to transfer these skills and teachings," Pevar said. "This teaching job just sort of fell into my lap, and I thought, 'OK, here's a real calling.' "

Bob DeChiro, a bass instructor and the missing bass player for Extra Thick n Crunchy, was busy Wednesday morning tutoring another group, The Rubber Band, as members went through a rendition of The Kinks' "You Really Got Me."

DeChiro praised the performance, but said that he needed to be able to hear more of 16-year-old Nick Hammond's vocals. DeChiro stressed the themes of getting everyone in the band involved.

"We jam a lot so everyone gets a chance to play," DeChiro said. "It's very interesting with the bass, and getting a broad base of ideas."

Eleven-year-old twins Gabriel and Abraham Neimark of Ashland, both members of Extra Thick n Crunchy, joined the camp after convincing the organizers of their skill levels. Gabriel, a drummer, and Abraham, who plays a guitar nearly as tall as he is, were joined in the band by guitarist and lead singer Tommy Lawless, 13, of Grants Pass, and 14-year-old Anderson, the keyboardist. The band members didn't know each other before meeting at camp. Guitarist Abraham Neimark was given credit for choosing the band name after he saw it on a potato chip bag.

In addition to "Sunshine of Your Love", the Britt Rock Camp students have been working on mastering such tunes as James Brown's "I Feel Good" and the Black Key's "Lies," which all will be played by the camp's bands on Friday, July 22, in a free concert, open to the public at the courthouse. The concert begins at 3 p.m.

Austen said he's enjoyed the camp so far, and his dream is to become a professional musician.

"Whenever I play, there's a lot of feeling to it; it's not just playing to hear notes, I'm playing to really feel it," Austen said.

Mat Wolf is a reporting intern. Reach him at 541-776-4481 or by email at

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