About the most serious mistake you can make as a young rock & roller is to wince, roll your eyes, and indicate that you’re sorry to the audience when you make a mistake on stage.

I wish I had know this when I was 15 and in my first band.

It would have saved years of communicating a lack of confidence before I discovered that no one cares if you make a mistake playing live — and in fact, audiences only know that you’ve made a mistake if you tell them!

The alternative? Strike a pose! Repeat the mistake! It’s only ROCK & ROLL!

That’s a tiny part of the wisdom conferred by Petaluma Junior High School’s Rock & Roll 101 program – now in its 6th year. The brainchild of Music Director Preston Bailey, this program puts Junior High kids in bands, where they learn to argue about band names, more or less start, play, and stop songs together, rehearse, create arrangements, strike poses, and learn the inside tricks of the trade from pro R&R vets like me.

Six years ago, when Preston proposed the program to me, asking for sponsorship and help in the actual teaching, I immediately said yes — because Preston was (and still is) a hero of mine, for his unswerving positive attitude and dedication to the value of music in everyone’s life.

My high regard for Preston began 20 years ago when Petaluma area music programs were cancelled due to budgetary problems (sound familiar?) – and Preston sparkplugged local bond measures to keep the programs for elementary school kids alive. That got my attention. Preston included everyone (and still does) and has the amazing ability to mobilize large groups of diverse people in the interest of making music, and having fun. See why he’s a hero?

Anyway — we’ve had some diverse groups of kids over the past 6 years — one year had five bands, one year had one huge band, with students performing as “guest artists.”

One common thread, besides the extremely loud and out of tune thread that links R&R 101 performers to the Rolling Stones, is that everyone has a great time.

This year the program has 35 kids participating — that’s 8 bands — and check out the band names: Suspicious Delicious, O2, Planet 9, Freezer Burn, Sushi House, Random, a couple of “no-names” and Push. So you see we’re off to a good start!

Oh — a word about Push — last year they evolved right out of Junior High School and into the concert scene, performing at Cotati’s Kid’s Day Concert in the park, and opening shows at the Phoenix. From the beginning they were into writing their own material — Avery Okamura being an especially talented guitarist and songwriter/performer — the drummer and bass player, James Allen and Matt Wallner, are also fine young musicians — the group rocks!

You absolutely have to check it out: Mark your calendar now for the R&R 101 Grand Finale Performance at the Phoenix Theater (it’s free) at 7:00PM on Tuesday May 11th.

And while I have a great time helping with coaching and mentoring, a number of past students, private music teachers, pro musicians and community members like Petaluma Police Officer Bill Bassman, and education guru Bob Hermann come in and lend their expertise and musical performance as well — it’s a heart felt community effort — thanks to Preston Bailey.

By the way, Preston donates his time to the program — and without the support of Petaluma Junior High’s Principal, John Lehmann, and Preston’s personal dedication, this totally amazing program would not exist.

I’ve had parents come up to me and say “Thank you for sponsoring this program — without Rock and Roll 101 I would have NO leverage with my kid….” So not only do I wish that this existed when I was a young rock kid, but I bet my parents would have appreciated it too!