You want to feel like a geezer? Consider this: Burlington’s 242 Main turns 25 years old this year. Since the waning days of the Reagan administration, the all-ages club has served not only as the physical cornerstone for the decrepit Memorial Auditorium — 242 is in the basement — but the very foundation of the city’s thriving rock scene. Generations of local musicians trace their roots to the dimly lit proving ground familiarly known as “two-four-two.”
242 Main is run by Burlington Parks and Recreation. In an age when budget-slashing city councils across the country typically first point their blades at the arts, the fact that it has managed to survive this long is a minor miracle. But the key to the club sticking around for another quarter century and beyond won’t rest with the current crop of bands gracing its stage on a weekly basis. Rather, 242 Main’s future lies with a unique after-school program that’s preparing the next generation of great local musicians to rock its concrete walls.
Richard Bailey, 40, is the program coordinator for Parks & Rec, and is tasked primarily with overseeing general operations at 242 Main. But his pride and joy is serving as the de facto dean of the 242 Main After School Rock and Roll Music Program, now entering its fifth year.
“Of all the things we do, this is what I’m most proud of,” he says during a recent interview at the club.
The program is an offshoot of the Vermont Rock Camp, the long-running summer intensive founded by local musician Greg Matses (Tammy Fletcher & the Disciples, Channel Two Dub Band), which is also housed at 242 Main. With help from Matses, Bailey adapted that program’s curriculum to fit a five-week-long, three-day-a-week after-school setting.
Students ranging in age from 11 to 17 are given a crash course in what it means to perform in a functioning — and functional — band, from the basics of playing an instrument to the hierarchy of band dynamics and how to get a gig. In little more than a month, these kids learn what it takes your average garage band years to figure out. And thanks to a financial assist from then-Congressman Bernie Sanders five years ago, 242 Main even supplies all the instruments and gear, as well as scholarships to those who need help covering the $100 enrollment fee.
After an introductory day, the program’s 15 to 20 students are divided into groups — bands, really — and begin the process of working on a song. The ultimate goal is for each band to write, record and produce one tune, which they will then perform in an end-of-semester recital at the club for friends and family.
If the curriculum sounds intense, it is. But Bailey notes that they are careful not to overwhelm students with bookish academia and trifling matters such as, say, music theory. After all, the whole point of starting a band is to have fun, right?
“The last thing we want is for these kids to come in from a long day at school and feel like they’re going right back to school,” he says.
Bailey notes that advanced tutoring is available for interested students, but says the focus of the program is not strictly on music technique, per se. Rather, he hopes to illustrate rock music’s accessibility, as well as the sense of camaraderie one feels when one is part of a band. He should know. Bailey was a founding member of seminal rap-rock hybrid DysFunkShun, one of the more successful Burlington bands of the 1990s.
“[To write a good rock song], you really need to know three-bar chords. You might not even know what they’re called,” says the self-taught guitarist. “But it doesn’t matter.”
Bailey has enlisted a few local luminaries as instructors, including bassist Aram Bedrosian, songwriter Marie Claire and guitarist Franky Andreas (Amadis), 242 Main’s booking agent. He also brings in “guest speakers” such as local hardcore band My Revenge to illustrate some of the day-to-day issues of being in a working band.
Bailey estimates the program has a 70 percent attrition rate and notes that several bands from the program have stayed together post-grad, many of which now grace the 242 stage on a regular basis.
Burlington High School junior Sarah Stickle is a five-year veteran of the program. She now works as one of the program’s mentors, alumni who shadow each band and provide personal support and guidance.
“I love it,” says Stickle, who hopes to become a teacher, which she credits to her experiences in the program. “It’s an environment where you are encouraged to do what you want.”
It doesn’t get any more rock ’n’ roll than that. Class dismissed.