Local youths compete for musical glory at Ridgefield Playhouse's annual BandJam

Local middle school and high school bands will get a chance to shine as the Ridgefield Playhouse’s BandJam competition returns in 2021 on June 6.

“It’s a show for kids, run by kids and gets people who are interested in music and the arts to come and perform,” said Allison Stockel, the Ridgefield Playhouse’s executive director. “It’s like American Idol, where they try out before judges and then we whittle it down to the top middle school and high school bands, and they do a full performance and get feedback from our judges.”

The high school finalists this year are Electric Jane, Freedom Rockets, Gremlin Daycare, Groove Haven and Hablo Pescobar. Middle school finalists are Fortuna, Skynet and Speed Limit. One winner for each will be announced.

Noted rock guitarist Richie Scarlet, who has performed with a who’s who of rock bands in his career, will play with BandJam finalists on the Playhouse stage before a live audience at 4 p.m.

“It’s a kick for the kids to perform with a guy who is in the biz,” Stockel said. “It’s a fun event, and the kids are happy to raise money for the Playhouse.”

Hosted by standup comedian Christine O’Leary, the competitors — known as “Bandjammers” — will play in front of a series of music experts who will determine who will be the winner.

“The judges give great feedback, positive feedback that really helps these kids go forward with their musical journey,” Stockel said.

American Idol alum Kimberley Locke, who is local to the area, will return as one of the judges for the competition, having done it in 2019.

“I was blown away by the performances last time,” she said. “The contestants in the competition are practicing regularly and value their 15 minutes on the stage like they are performing for their lives.”

Locke released a lullaby album on Mother’s Day entitled “You’re My Baby” and will have a Christmas album out this winter.

Considering she had to stand in front of Simon Cowell during her American Idol year, she knows a thing or two about the judging process.

“My goal is to critique them to the level they are performing at,” Locke said. “These kids are showmen and it is really something to see. I’ll look at musicianship first and foremost, looking at the quality of the band. Song selection is really big also; even on American Idol, they drilled that into us so much. Also, I want to see that they are having fun. You just have to own it, you have to know this is where you want to be and where you belong.”

The other judges include i95FM’s Ethan Carey; Wayne Forte, founder of Entourage Talent; and multi-platinum record producer Aaron Accetta.

This year’s winners will be looking to follow in the footsteps of 2019 winner Jimy Bishop, a Ridgefield High School freshman who performed with Freedom Rockets; in May, Bishop’s “Take It to the Streets” shot onto New Music Weekly’s Top 40 and Hot 100 charts.

Another alum of the competition is Drew Cole, who was on The Voice.

“We’ve had others go on to be working musicians, and it’s great to see some of these kids stay in the industry and make it their livelihood,” Stockel said.

Since BandJam started in 2009, the competition has provided local students an opportunity to participate in a professional music competition in front of celebrity judges and music industry insiders.

“The feedback these young musicians receive is invaluable as they pursue their musical dreams,” Stockel said. “More importantly, it has helped promote music education for kids. Musical training helps build confidence, improves students’ school work, builds imagination (and) gives them a sense of achievement.”

What’s amazing, she added, is the talent level of those who have competed through the years.

“We didn’t expect it to be that good,” Stockel said. “These judges, year after year, are blown away at how tremendously talented these musicians are. And they are just teens, and in some cases, even pre-teens. But they are incredibly well-versed in music and songwriting. It’s become a great collaboration between kids and adults and encouraging the next generation of musicians.”

There are also opportunities for students interested in music production, with middle schoolers and high schoolers working backstage and learning from the Playhouse staff.

“We get a lot of people who come and just want to see some great music,” Stockel said. “To see young kids be so excited about music and the arts is really heartwarming. You realize the effect that music has on them.”

For more information or to purchase tickets to the event, visit www.ridgefieldplayhouse.org.

Keith Loria is a freelance writer.