Fox Valley young musicians really are LiveWires
By Judy Buchenot For Sun-Times Media April 19, 2013 3:54PM
LiveWire members (from left) Danny Cappelli, Cohen Bessler, Nikko Viejon and Alex Cappelli line up under the sign at The National Underground in Nashville before performing there in late March. | Submitted photo
Upcoming LiveWire concerts:
- Sunday, May 19 at 5 p.m. River Rockhouse, 106 Rock River Trail, St. Charles
- Wednesday, May 29 at 8 p.m. , Hard Rock Cafe, 64 W. Ontario, Chicago (proceeds at this show will go to Lurie’s Children’s Hospital)
- Sunday, June 16, NXNE Festival, Toronto
Updated: May 23, 2013 6:14AM
When the driving opening chords blast through the speakers, there is no doubt that LiveWire is about to play “Bad to the Bone.”
The song may be an oldie but the band is anything but old. Ranging in age from 8 to 10, LiveWire band musicians may still be working on learning their multiplication tables but they do know how to rock and roll. The drummer pounding out the rhythm is 10-year-old Cohen Bessler of St. Charles. The driving bass guitar is played by 10-year-old Alex Cappelli of Geneva who is joined by her lead guitarist brother, 8-year-old Danny Cappelli. And the singer growling out the lyrics, “BBBBBad to the bone,” is 8-year-old cherub-faced Nikko Viejon from North Aurora.
When the elementary students march onto the stage at rock venues, there is often an audible “awwww” from the crowd in response to the cute factor inherent in children. But when the band starts to play, the crowd is surprised to find that these young musicians can really rock the room.
LiveWire was put together by Ken Mandat, music teacher and music coordinator at Hix Brothers Music in Aurora. The four children were all taking music lessons at the store and signed up for a “Rock Around an Hour and a Half” program where students are grouped by age and ability into a band.
“There have been several groups that came out of the program that were successful,” said Mandat. He was a little concerned about grouping students together who were so young but says “I saw a level of maturity with these kids that was way beyond their years. They were doing things at nine years old better than some of the adult bands. They were cute but more importantly, they were musically talented.”
The LiveWire band members quickly became good friends and took their show on the road. A performance at Aurora’s Two Brothers Roundhouse led to an appearance on WGN’s morning show in 2012. The popularity of the band kept growing and led to other invitations to perform. Over the summer the group played at more than 15 festivals including Naperville’s Last Fling and Geneva’s Swedish Days. In August, they were invited to perform at the Chicago Theatre for Dwyane Wade’s Chicago’s Got Talent where they performed Tom Petty’s “American Girl” to a packed audience. During spring break, the group performed in Hard Rock Cafe in Memphis and two rock venues in Nashville. They will be appearing on WGN’s morning show for the third time this spring and are headed to Toronto in June to perform at the NXNE music festival.
Despite their increasing popularity, the group is staying grounded according to band parent Larry Bessler. “What we have done recently is donate all of their tips and proceeds to groups that help children,” said Bessler. “We (the parents of the band members) feel that they are learning the power of music by contributing to kids in need.” They donated more than $650 to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and The Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt after their recent trip Memphis and Nashville. The proceeds from the sale of their hats and merchandise with the band logo goes to Lazarus House, a St. Charles homeless shelter.
“They are kids helping other kids and having fun doing it,” explained Bessler. “They are all just normal silly kids. The boys aren’t into girls yet and all of them are embarrassed when someone asks for an autograph.”
The families of the band members have all become close friends and enjoy traveling together. “Since we are going to festivals and fun events, we all have a good time,” says Bessler. “All of the families are into music too so it is fun for all of us.”
The fact that parents are interested in music helps explain the band’s diverse play list. Since the children have grown up listening to a variety of rock bands, they are open to performing everything from “Come Together” by the Beatles to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Even though they are having fun, the band is working. Typically they play a 45 to 60 minute set at each event and have had to do two sets in a row at some events. “I am really impressed at their ability to stay focused,” said Mandat. “They handle the pressure of going on stage really well and aren’t getting burned out. They all still are doing really well in school.”
Alex Cappelli, the band’s bass player, said she sometimes gets nervous “when I have to sing a part or play a big part by myself but the most fun is just playing my bass with the whole band. I am really excited about getting to play Crazy Train. It is challenging but it sounds really cool. I think it is nice that we can do something fun and still help people.”
Lill Cappelli, mother of two band members, keeps a close watch over her children’s involvement. “They still love playing so we let them keep playing,” she explained. “They want to practice and usually practice on their own. They are really self-motivated. If it ever stops being fun, that is when we stop. But meanwhile, it’s been a blast. We are a big music family. We all play and love music.”
The positive relationship between the band members has helped make the group a success. When asked why LiveWire does so well, Alex explained. “This is a group effort. It can’t be one person doing it all. Everyone has to do their best for this to work. So we all give it everything and I hope we keep playing together because I like doing this so much.”