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JP-Fest gives teens chance to play music

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

J.P. Bramlett
EAST PRAIRIE -- Living in a town with a noise ordinance and lots of neighbors often makes it hard for young, aspiring musicians to get some time to practice.

Randy Bramlett of East Prairie admits he's all too familiar with the trials and tribulations of being in a teenage band.

Hailing from Rockford, Ill., Bramlett said he played bass guitar when he was 16 and ran around with Zach Zanders, who's married to Robin Zanders of Cheap Trick. He also grew up around Gary Richrath from REO Speedwagon and watched them practice and get their start in garage bands.

Bramlett's hobby was later passed on to his 17-year-old son, James Paul "J.P" Bramlett, who played guitar with four local bands: No Other, Idle Smile, OEA and Circle 9.

"That was my way of steering him away from certain crowds around him because it's easy to fall into those bad crowds," Bramlett said.

Last September J.P. Bramlett, an East Prairie High senior, died of injuries he received in a car accident. When Bramlett's son was alive, he attended a city council meeting and was denied to hold "band practice" between 2-5 p.m. every Saturday, he said.

"I think it's a shame that teenagers that have talent and want to participate don't have a release," Bramlett said.

Prior to and following his son's death Bramlett has worked to ensure local teenagers have a place to practice and gain experience with their music while keeping them out of trouble. The result? JP-Fest, a 12-hour event devoted strictly to providing experience for local bands.

"His friends said instead of Oz Fest, we'll have the JP-Fest," Bramlett recalled.

In November the four local bands gathered for the first JP-Fest at the Heartland Building in East Prairie. Over 100 people of all ages came out for the 12-hour event. A police officer was even on hand to patrol the parking lot, Bramlett said.

"We had a great turnout," Bramlett said. "I had a sign right up on the door that said no drugs, no alcohol and no fighting. Older friends of mine and parents showed up to help, and all the kids had a great time. "

Nik Hess, a junior at East Prairie High School, practiced three times in a band with J.P. Bramlett before his death. He currently plays bass guitar for No Other and thinks the JP-Fest is great.

"The last JP-Fest was my first show, and I was nervous," Hess admitted. "But by the end, I kind of opened up and was able to be myself."

Other local teenagers are also responding, Bramlett said. Since the first JP-Fest the number of bands wanting to play has skyrocketed, he noted.

"We had 18 bands that wanted to play in the next JP-Fest," Bramlett noted. "For the next one we may make it a two-day event."

In addition to Charleston and East Prairie, bands from Sikeston, St. Louis, Benton, New Madrid, Jackson and Cape Girardeau are taking interest in JP-Fest.

JP-Fest also gave some parents the chance to hear their children for the first time, Bramlett pointed out.

"Parents have heard their kids say, for a couple of years, they're going to practice, but when they come and see them perform, a lot of the kids end of up with new equipment and amps," Bramlett pointed out.

Cindi Hess, Nik's mother, attended JP-Fest, but it wasn't the first time she's heard her son and his friends play since she lets them practice in her shed, she said.

"I hear them all of the time -- It's not my kind of music, but it's their generation," Hess confessed.

Even so Hess admitted she's impressed with the young adults.

"I can't believe how creative these kids are with their music. They're making up their own tunes and words," Hess said.

Although the teens recently received a complaint from a neighbor that resulted in a visit from the local police, for the most part, everyone is really nice about the teens practicing, Hess said. She added she doesn't let them practice after 6 p.m. and is grateful for their interest in music.

"When they're here, I know they're not doing drugs, not drinking and not terrorizing anything," Hess said. "It's like I'm babysitting. I love it."

She continued: "If they're here, it's controlled. I know what they're doing and where they're at. I'm disabled so I'm here all the time. It's not like I go to work and they're out in the shed alone."

Looking to make the JP-Fest a quarterly event, the next JP-Fest is set for Feb. 5 at the Manhattan Room in Sikeston across from Movie Time. The event, open to the public, begins at 11 a.m. and ends at midnight with a different band playing each hour. Admission is a $5 cover charge.

Proceeds go toward the James Paul Bramlett Memorial Scholarship. Bramlett said the scholarship, which is for East Prairie R-2 graduates, will have financial and academic criteria. Eventually, Bramlett hopes to add a scholarship for the Charleston R-1 School District.

JP-Fest will continue as long is it remains positive and there's no negativity or misbehavior associated with it, Bramlett said.

He said: "My son always said, 'It's not about dopers and boozers or losers -- it's all about the tunes.' And that was what he was dedicated to."

For more information, visit www.jpbramlett.com/lineup.htm.