Wik At The Toad Tavern; A Stellar Debut


Wik, the band I've been a mentor to and have been part of, played their debut show Saturday night, January 13th, 2018. So this is a completely biased review. But if you read this blog, you know I only tell the truth, regardless of the cost. I would say the same things if I didn't know any of these people. Well, not the personal stuff, but the musical analysis is 100% true. If you don't believe me, check out the videos, which will continue to be posted on Wik's Facebook page. While you're there, like our page!

I've spoken in this blog many times about this band and their lead singer; my protege, Payton Roybal. My friend Todd Labo and I encouraged these young musicians, ages sixteen to nineteen, to form a band and start playing out. We even get onstage with them sometimes, just because we can. So sue us. If you want to stay young, play with young musicians.

Wik played at the 40th anniversary party my wife and I held last July. When I introduced the band, I told our captive audience that Payton has the most sheer rock star potential of anyone I've ever worked with. I gave her a big buildup, and then she proved me right. I love being proved right.

Wik's next performance was at Prog Fest this past October. I wrote about that performance in The Last Encore. The band was tight and polished, and gave an inspired performance. Payton gave the greatest solo vocal performance in the history of this annual event. I know because I know who gave every previous one. Me.

While both of these sets were great, and everyone performed well, and their performances were received well, both of these shows had a built-in audience. One that Todd would call "safe." It was our desire to get them out in public for a show where they would have to bring their own audience, and play for a less "safe" bar crowd. That goal was achieved beyond our expectations last Saturday night.

Before I get to the concert, I want to take a moment to explain the band name. Wik was Payton's grandfather's nickname. He died of cancer in 2014. He and Payton were very close. The band's name is a tribute to him. We rock for you, Grandpa Wik.

Grandpa Wik with baby Payton

We used social media and word of mouth to get people to the show. Several came because they know me, which was nice. My oncology nurse, Melanie, and my Reiki practitioner, Terri, were both there. But most of the people were there because they knew about Payton, and about these players. They knew this band would be good because of who was in it. And no one was disappointed.

I've invested a lot of energy, time and love in these teenage wonders. I've felt a special calling to help Payton as much as I can for as long as I can. When I met Payton in the spring of 2016, she was a completely different girl. Withdrawn, very shy, and sad. But she had this undeniable voice. Since then, she has completely transformed into a great beauty, a magnetic performer, and a fun girl to be around. Yes, she had new friendships and a couple of good mentors, but she made those changes herself. I told her once recently that I feel like if I've given her anything, it's been confidence. I, as a professional singer and performer, had confidence in her, and that helped her have confidence in herself. She did the rest.

All of the players in this band are stellar. They play well beyond their years. They're old souls, all of them. They have an appreciation for music made before they were born, unlike most people their age. Cole, the guitarist, idolizes Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath. Payton prefers Metallica, and sounds like the second coming of Janis Joplin. The band will probably add a Janis Joplin cover soon. And all the while, keep writing originals. They had one original song ready for this show, with more to come.

Before this show, everyone was nervous and excited. It was their first time performing a full set in front of a paying audience. They were up to the task. Before performances, I like to give Payton a pep talk. This time, I had nothing prepared. I told her she didn't need one. "You've got this," I said. And then, she proved me right, as she's done so many times before. Have I mentioned that I love being proved right?

They began the set with two covers, Oh Well by Fleetwood Mac and While My Guitar Gently Weeps by The Beatles. The energy poured off of them from the first note. It's a good sign when the guitarist puts his guitar behind his head on the first song. They were up there to entertain, not just to play music. And entertain they did.

Payton was alive onstage like I've never seen her. She ran the set. She introduced the songs, which I had never heard her do before. She was funny and engaging between songs. I also had never seen that before. She took on the responsibility of being a front person in a band for the first time, and did it like a pro. I knew she didn't need no stinking pep talk.

In terms of coaching, this was my contribution to the set. I put the keyboards in back to give Cole room to perform out front. I gave Payton some pointers on how to prepare what to say between songs. I had her make up the set list, as I believe that job belongs to the leader and singer. Maybe because that's what I have been and what I've always done. I told Payton and Cole to own the chemistry they have onstage and play it up. They did all of these things and more.

All I did was suggest things to this band. They were the ones that did them. It's important to Todd and me that people know how good they are without us onstage. That came through loud and clear from the first song. But several of the songs had special guests. The first was the angelic Ally Szabo, a wonderful singer in her own right, and a close friend to Payton. She sang harmony on two songs. She's easily the best 16 year old harmony singer I know. I call Ally and Payton my Dynamic Duo. As a vocal coach to both of them, I'm allowed to say that.

Ally on the left, Payton on the right. My Dynamic Duo.

When the band played What Is And What Should Never Be by Led Zeppelin, a very cool moment with lots of resonance for the band happened. A few rehearsals earlier, Cole had lost the slide he used for the guitar solo. So instead, he used a drum stick. Not a chicken leg, an actual drum stick. The band thought it was funny and cool, so he kept doing it. At the same time, our drummer, Reece, had a fractured right wrist and wasn't allowed to drum with that hand. So he played entire rehearsals one-handed, and was almost as good as he is with both hands, which is saying a lot. Two rehearsal videos of him playing with one hand can be seen on Wik's Facebook page. So when the time came for that moment in the set, Reece handed one of his drum sticks to Cole to use for the solo. During the solo, he played one-handed, like he had done in rehearsals. It was an awesome moment that no one except band members caught until now.

The next guests on the stage were Todd and myself. We were up there for Man In The Box by Alice In Chains. I posted the picture below from that song, and wanted very much to write a caption that said, "Payton sings Man In The Box with Man Almost In The Box." But I didn't. Sometimes I let my dead guy jokes go too far, but I thought that was a good one.

When it came time for the band's first original song, there was no drop off from the songs people knew to the one they didn't. It sounded as good as any song they played. I happened to be talking to my friend Melanie at that time, and she asked who did the song we were listening to. When I told her it was an original song, she was impressed. It's just the beginning for this band.

For the big finale, Ally, Todd and I all joined the band onstage. Payton and the band had rocked the house and given a lot of energy, but still had some to spare for a rousing rendition of Fooled Around And Fell In Love. The set had gone a little long, but no one except the headliner cared. Maybe they didn't even care. The set was that good, and the ending was powerful.

I could go on and on about the set itself, and how great each one of these young rock stars was. I was filled with emotion and pride. This band had had minimal time to get ready for this at the same time most of us are preparing for another big (and completely different) show on February 3rd. For them to pull it off this well was amazing. And for the one on whom all of this depends, it was a triumph. Everyone there knew they were in the presence of greatness. I've known it for more than a year, and now it's time for the rest of the world to know about Payton Roybal.

If you missed it, you missed it. But two videos from the show have been posted on Wik's band page, with more to come. Other performance and rehearsal videos can be seen there as well, including the two that feature The Amazing One-Handed Drummer. If you're on Facebook, please go to the page, like it and share it. Share a video you like. Invite your friends to like the page. All of this helps the band, which is part of my legacy.

After the set, we marveled at how large the crowd was for us. It was by far the largest crowd any of the three bands had that night. I couldn't contain my joy and pride. They did it, just like I knew they would. My favorite part was handing them an envelope full of cash with the amount they were paid written on the outside. It was much more than any of us expected. The looks on their faces were priceless. It was a moment I'll never forget.

This is a legacy project for me. I won't be able to attend many more Wik shows, if any. But based on what I experienced, I feel good about leaving this project in their capable hands. As a teacher or coach, your hope is that your students will get to the point where they don't need you anymore. They may want you as a friend, but they no longer need your guidance. I think this band has reached that point. I hope they'll let me keep coming to rehearsals for as long as I can, and I love to give my opinion, but as far as I'm concerned, they can take this from here. If they want my advice, I'll gladly give it. But they proved to me last Saturday night that they are ready.

Wik is my last band. I won't be in another one after this. Only I would be in the last band of my career with a group of teenagers. I couldn't have imagined doing this even three years ago. But here I am, having the time of my life with musicians that could call me Grandpa. Now that I've just said that, they probably will. I don't care. I love each one of them, and I'll keep trying to help them until I can't anymore. Even if I don't think they need it. #wik #waroncancer #bearingwitness

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