There is a club in the music industry that has become known as the 27 Club and musicians are just dying to get into it - literally. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and, most recently, Amy Winehouse, all "members" of the club, didn't make it past their 27th birthdays, either from drug overdoses or other unexplained causes of death. The unfortunate deaths may have caused an end to their album-making days, but that doesn't stop others from helping their music live on.
Students of the Uptown Music Collective will present "Night With the Living Dead II: The 27 Club" at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 and 29 at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St. The Halloween fundraiser will benefit the nonprofit music school at 848 W. Fourth St., and will serve as a reminder of the musical legacy left behind by the late artists.
According to information provided by the school, the show will feature performers between 9 and 18 years old who have been practicing for about two months. Students not only perform in the show, but work behind the scenes directing and managing the video presentations and light and sound show.
CRAIG S. MCKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
The student leadership committee includes directors Nuria Hunter and Brandon Route, both 17 and students at Williamsport Area High School; as well as Tess Clutter, 15, Katie Kahn, 15, and Gabe Stillman, 16, all of Williamsport Area High School; Garrett Gaetano, 17, Dylan Rockoff, 17, and Ronnie Reynolds, 16, all of Loyalsock Township High School; AJ Robbins, 13, Loyalsock Township Middle School; and Shawn Chism, 15, and Jasmine Harland, 16, Pennsylvania Charter Cyber School. The production is under the supervision of Dave Brumbaugh, Uptown Music Collective executive director, who said "like in world history, the key to the future is found in understanding the past."
"Through the study of and performance of music from the great musicians that have gone before, students learn where the sounds and techniques they find in present music came from and how they developed over time," Brumbaugh said. "This knowledge will allow them to learn the concepts artists of the past used so they can continue the evolution or move in a completely new direction."
Like the school's past productions, which have included 16 major shows in eight years like "Dark Side of the Moon," "Let it Be," "Night With the Living Dead," "The Evolution of Rock" and "The Unforgettable Fire," Brumbaugh said the students are enthusiastic about the music.
"For all of us it is a welcome return to our rock roots," he said. "Plus these artists were the creme of the crop, their music is challenging and fun to perform."
Although Brumbaugh does not think the age 27 holds any significance in the artists' deaths, he does believe the "naive experimentation that characterized the '60s without a doubt played into the deaths of Jimi, Janis and Jim."
"Of course, artists are not the most stable people and the difficulties of life on the road and of superstardom probably was as much of a factor," he said. "Their legend continues to affect today's musicians, I think, less because of their untimely deaths and more because of the quality of their musical legacy."
According to Brumbaugh, senior Shannon Cantor came up with the idea of the 27 Club. He said the students pick the fall show and already voted to do something with the theme because of its date being so close to Halloween. When choosing which students would perform, Brumbaugh said he focused on each of their strengths and weaknesses, while pushing them to turn their weaknesses into strengths by stretching them and putting them under a bit of pressure.
Gabe Stillman will perform for the ninth time with the Collective. His first show was part one of "Night With the Living Dead."
"Performing in the Collective shows is truly an amazing experience," he said. "If it was not for the shows, I would never have discovered that I love to perform music."
Stillman said he's always listened to and loved Jimi Hendrix, as well as the Doors and Janis Joplin.
"I can't say that I had really listened to Amy Winehouse before I knew that we would be honoring her in this performance, but now I really enjoy her music very much," he said. "These four musicians that we are honoring as members of the 27 Club all had a significant impact on the politics of music and also changed the opinions of what is considered and accepted to be 'pop music.' Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison all provided the soundtrack to the late '60s and early '70s, while Amy Winehouse brought back the sound of soul and Motown with a contemporary twist to generate a new style of popular music."
Jasmine Harlan also is a fan of the musicians, aspiring to share their musical influence while playing bass onstage. She thinks Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Doors pioneered the '60s and '70s rocks scene.
"They broke the mold and took funk and blues to a brand new level," Harlan said. Nirvana, she added, changed the modern rock scene overnight.
Each of the students involved with the production understand that, although talented, the performers were negatively influenced by the fast world that made them spin out of control.
Fourteen-year-old Gianna Rockoff believes so many musical greats died at 27 because of temptation.
"They get tempted and overwhelmed by the negative and destructive things that can come with fame, such as drugs, too much pressure, lack of sleep and a sense of an overpowering ego," she said.
Even so, their talent continues to outshine the hardships that initiated them into the club. Nine-year-old Cade Palmatier thinks that the musician's unusual qualities have contributed to their success.
"Jimi Hendrix did a lot of feedback with his guitar, which wasn't the normal sound," Palmatier said. "The Doors are recognizable because of the singer's deep voice."
"Every kind of music has evolved from each other," added 13-year-old AJ Robbins." It may not be very obvious, but without all of these artists, the music today wouldn't be what it is."
Tickets to "Night With the Living Dead: 27 Club," which are available at the Community Arts Center box office, Uptown Music Collective, Alabaster Coffee Roaster and Tea Co. and K&S Music, South Williamsport, or by calling 329-0888, are $10 in advance and $15 at the door.
For more information, visit uptownmusic.org.