A place to play for teen performers 

Five years ago, the seeds of the Teen Arts and Music Festival were sown when organizer Matt Stokes, an Indianapolis-based pianist and musician, started putting on open stage events at the Broad Ripple McDonald’s.

The McDonald’s had a piano, and Stokes gradually began offering it as a place for teenage musicians to come and play for an audience. By the end of Stokes’ time there, his “clientele” had grown steadily, and he began to develop the idea for a Teen Music Festival.

“Playing at McDonald’s made it real obvious there wasn’t an opportunity for kids to play,” Stokes said.

Stokes founded the Fest a year later. The Wayne Library Branch was the site of his first event. It was a small-scale affair, with eight bands and what Stokes says was an inadequate sound and stage set-up.

Pancake Rescue Squad — a Speedway-based pop-punk band — played the first year of the festival, and is returning for their fourth appearance July 4 at the Underground at the Harrison Center for the Arts. Eighth-graders at the first festival, they’re now seniors in high school and old hands on the festival grounds.

The Fest has gradually grown, moving to more hospitable locales and increasing its list of acts. Now in its fourth year, Stokes has added an arts exhibition and moved the event to the Harrison Center.

Stokes brought in singer/songwriter Janet Gilray this year to help with organization and recruitment of local artists. Gilray spent the last year working on a music history project designed to encourage student interest in U.S. history through the performance of traditional folk and country ballads.

For both Stokes and Gilray, there was a synthesis of purpose. Like Stokes, Gilray is a musician who had the fortune of being mentored as a younger artist and wanted to pass that on.

“People gave to us,” Gilray said. “I had a lot of old guy mentors as I was coming into the music. To the kids, we’re the generation bringing them along.” 


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