Forget clarinets, oboes, trombones and tubas. This is rock ‘n’ roll.
If it weren’t for the AMP Studio, 16-year-old bassist/guitarist Gabe Resto said he probably would be consigned to practicing alone in his bedroom.
“It’s good, but you can only go so far,” he said. “Here, you can have the whole gig experience. This is honestly one of the best things that’s ever happened in my life.”
The Salisbury music school has been spreading rock and life lessons for four years while providing a raucous home for teens like Resto to hone their craft.
But then came a key change this past summer. After about two years of leading classes at the former fire station in downtown Salisbury, AMP heard it would need to relocate since the building’s main tenant, the performing arts venue Headquarters Live, was closing.
An interior view AMP Studio in downtown Salisbury on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. (Photo: Staff photo by Ralph Musthaler)
Gino and Susan Bailey, the couple that runs AMP, didn’t have to look far for a new home of their own. A tip from their former landlord, Joey Gilkerson, led them to One Plaza East, the tall brick building on the corner of Main and Division streets.
During the previous 18 months, the Salisbury real estate firm Davis Simpson Holdings had been buying up space in the former Wicomico Hotel, one floor at a time. By the time the Baileys reached out to the company, it had acquired six of the building’s eight floors.
AMP reopened in August in the heavily renovated basement — a fitting location since many of its students, after all, are starting at the bottom of the music industry.
More: At Salisbury’s Headquarters Live, final bow is bittersweet Learning confidence
If Toni Hayden has her way, it won’t take her long to reach the top.
She has been taking singing lessons since she was 4 years old. Now 12, she sees herself following in the footsteps of her heroes: Evanescence, Paramore and Def Leppard. So she’s a regular at AMP’s Monday night jam sessions.
“They’ve definitely taught me to be more confident on stage, always speaking up to the band and always doing your best,” Toni said during a break from singing on a recent Monday evening.
Inside AMP’s low-ceilinged dwelling, the band is kicking into gear. Gabe’s noodling on the bass leaks through the double doors that lead outside, and drifts up to the steps that empty onto Main Street next to Deadstock Shoes & Apparel.
A guitar strapped across his shoulder, instructor Zach Simms leads the student band through a set of stadium rock anthems — the stuff of Pat Benatar, Phil Collins and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.
Gino Bailey, owner of AMP Studio, stands in the office area of his downtown Salisbury rehearsal space on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. (Photo: Staff photo by Ralph Musthaler)
The speakers, the stage, the mixing board, the lights — all the school’s main ingredients for rock ‘n’ roll are imbued with a touch of history. When Headquarters Live closed, Gilkerson donated its equipment to AMP, Gino Bailey said.
So when these kids play, it doesn’t just seem like the real thing; it is the real thing.
And they’re expected to sound professional, too.
“I want that accent,” Simms tells lead guitarist, 18-year-old Alex DiPirro, as he navigates the staccato riff in the chorus of Benatar’s “Heartbreaker.”
To drill home the point, Simms has the students clap en masse to the beat.
“I want that to be really tight,” he says.
Like most of the AMP instructors, Simms is a veteran of the Eastern Shore music scene. His current group, Ghost Co-Host, was a fixture at Headquarters Live. The big stage
The idea for AMP grew out of Bailey’s experience working behind the scenes with James M. Bennett High’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival, a musical revue and fundraiser put on each year by the students. He makes a living as a sound engineer and provided the same service for years to the show.
“But that was just open to the kids at Bennett,” he said.
So he and his wife started their own school. Full name: Academy of Music Performance.
It started in a former bank building on Old Ocean City Road before moving into Headquarters Live. There, he could give students the opportunity to play on an actual stage. But there was one drawback: AMP had to work around the venue’s ever-evolving calendar.
Gabe Resto, 16, rehearses alongside bandmates at AMP Studio on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017. (Photo: Staff photo by Ralph Musthaler)
That’s not an issue at its new location, which it solely controls. The space consists of a stage, informal seating area and a smattering of separate rehearsal rooms for one-on-one lessons.
Susan Bailey recently incorporated it as a nonprofit to make it eligible to collect funding for scholarships.
Playing loud, live music in an office building hasn’t been as jarring as it sounds, said Bret Davis, one of the building’s owners. A thick layer of concrete stands between the basement and the rest of the building; the only sounds that make their way upstairs are those that seep into the elevator shaft, he said.
On this particular night, it’s as if the band is doing its best to break that sound barrier. At one point, Simms halts the group to tell its 13-year-old drummer, Brennan Kaiser, he’s banging too loudly.
Each student wears an expression of serious concentration throughout the hour-and-a-half practice session.
Like all of AMP’s groups, they have a name, Arcade, and a slate of public performances to look forward to. Among them: the Salisbury Winter Wonderland opening night at the City Park on Saturday, Nov. 25.
Bailey said the school teaches more to students than how to play an instrument, and it’s the same thing he saw them learn at the Bennett program.
“I saw these kids come in as freshmen, really shy, where you couldn’t get them to talk to you,” he said. “And by the time they’re seniors, they’re wanting to be front and center and doing the solos.”