SPOTLIGHT: Classes on at Bloomington Rock School

By Dan Craft

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, March 25 2012 9:10 a.m. MDT

ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, MARCH 25 AND THEREAFER - In this photo taken March 8, 2012, the Bloomington Rock School is seen housed in a downtown Bloomington, Ill., storefront formerly occupied by a Mexican grocery store. The school is downstate Illinois’ first full-time academy devoted to the art of amperage, and more.

The Pantagraph, Carlos T. Miranda, Associated Press

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — 'S cool to be in school when the teacher rocks.

Literally . as he's doing now . at your side . thumping out the bass to Tom Petty's "Runnin' Down a Dream."

So what if you weren't even born when the song was a radio anthem in the summer of '89?

The rock of ages never grows old.

"It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down ...

"I had the radio on, I was drivin' ... "

Laying down "Dream's" backbeat is 9-year-old drummer Joseph Dubravec; letting fly with the Petty-worthy licks is 10-year-old guitarist Chris Merica.

Tom would be proud.

Maybe even envious: Did he sound this good at 9? Or even 10?

The teacher at Joe and Chris' side, aka "Mr. Ed," grins big. Then bigger.

Meanwhile, he fills in the blanks with some steady bass and seasoned vocal.

Less-polished results have been heard at venues packing cover charges.

"Workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads ...

"Runnin' down a dream ... "

As the man behind an array of rock-prone music projects over the past decade or more, "Mr. Ed" Anderson knows a thing or two about runnin' down dreams — from long-gone bands like Brother Jed, to the recent climax of Backyard Tire Fire, to the currently percolating Anders Edison and Magic Box.

The latest dream finds Anderson now the headmaster of Bloomington Rock School, downstate Illinois' first full-time academy devoted to the art of amperage, and more.

Housed in a downtown storefront, the school fits like a guitar case: exposed brick walls to absorb the tidal waves of sound ("sometimes they're almost too loud for me," deadpans Ed), and high ceilings and polished wood floors to give it that rarefied air of academia.

"It's been a real fun process," says Anderson, who placed Backyard Tire Fire on what he calls "an indefinite hiatus" late last year — partly to focus on the school, partly because life was moving on for the maturing band, including brother Matt's impending nuptials.

"It's one of those things that's at a good place now," he adds. "I get to be at the school two to three days a week, and then I still get to play three to four nights a week."

Assisting Ed are his wife, Kim, who serves as the operations manager, and old crony Tony SanFilippo, owner-operator of Bloomington's Oxide Lounge Recording and Bloomington Rock School's percussion guru. The curriculum is comprised of two full courses designed for kids 10 to 17, "Introduction to Rock" and "Rock Performance."

The latter course culminates in a public performance at a major Twin Cities venue as The Rock School Band: like tonight's Castle Theatre gig, in which the band opens for Farm A Geddon and Anders Edison.

Also offered at the school are private lessons on guitar, bass and drums, and songwriting seminars, all of which are open to budding musicians of any age.

Currently, the Rock School's demographics range from "7 to 50s," says Anderson, who confesses, "at first I didn't think I'd be teaching as much — I hadn't before — but I discovered I could do it and I liked it."

On a recent Thursday night, school is in full session, with the smaller "Introduction to Rock" class kicking off the evening in laid-back but highly productive style.

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