Stop us if this sounds familiar.
A rock group, the Blah Blahs, plays before appreciative crowds and meshes well together, but soon break up. Two members of the group, guitarist Wade Carter and vocalist Ali Carter, who are brother and sister, formed a band called Library Riot. Another guitar player, Nicolas Hebert, brother Galin Hebert, and bassist Nicky Ferraiolo, meanwhile, go their own way and are now part of the hard-rocking combo Sniper.
It’s the changing life of rock stars, and the Blah Blahs (featured on KOMO TV's “Eric's Little Heroes” segment) are now part of a long line of distinguished rock history. But there’s a difference. All four members are still great friends. And they are between the ages of 8 and 12.
The four friends are graduates of , a music center tucked into the back of Woodinville’s Bear Creek Plaza that’s building a reputation as kick-starting the careers of a new generation of Pacific Northwest musicians.
“There are stuffy music schools, and there are fun music schools,” said Chris Griffin, who owns Spotlight Studios. Griffin, of course, assures prospective students and their parents that the latter is the case at his business, which he opened in 2007.
Griffin, who graduated from Newport High School in Bellevue and lives in Bothell, is an amicable 40-year-old whose music background suggests he’s found his dream. He’s a high-school dropout who left to pursue his dream of riches in a metal band called Worthless Pride. “I was like every other teenager,” he said. “I knew everything.”
But it turns out that a later band, Chronically Strange, in which he was the guitarist and lead vocalist, was pretty good. Chronically Strange released a 7-song EP that got airplay on local stations and was praised by Seattle Weekly, The Stranger and The Rocket.
Real life intruded soon enough, and Griffin—who is an independent songwriter, studio musician and occasional freelance performer—now has more than 20 years’ experience as a music teacher, most notably at Kennelly Keys Music.
Griffin’s idea of his own music school was prompted by several factors, including his wife Laura’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis five years ago. Opening his own business would allow him to spend more time with his wife, a former dental hygienist. And it was a year after opening that Griffin got the idea to open Jam Academy, his own school of rock that has proved to be a popular training ground for bands like the Blah Blahs. It came at Woodinville’s traditional in 2008, when some of his students rocked out to enthusiastic crowds.
Students from Jam Academy now regularly perform on the stage of in Woodinville.
Although Spotlight Studios caters to youth and provides popular summer music camps, you don’t have a youngster to get your rock on. Anyone can sign up for music lessons, in addition to renting band rehearsal spaces and various sound systems. Spotlight Studios also rents school band equipment and sells guitars, ukuleles, guitar strings, sheet music and a number of other music products.
Lessons are provided by Griffin and 15 other instructors, all of whom are connected to the Pacific Northwest music scene. In addition to guitar, students can learn woodwinds, trumpet, piano, drums, vocals, drums, bass and strings, among other instruments. Instructors include trumpeter Steve Mraz, who plays in the band .
For Griffin, his biggest joy is being there when his guitar students get that famed “a-ha moment” musicians speak of. “The coolest thing is when kids show improvement. They get past the quitter chords (barre chords) and start practicing regularly. They have more fun in class. You can see it in their eyes.”
Spotlight Studios is at 17802 134th Ave. NE, Suite 19. Owner Chris Griffin has created a YouTube page with lessons and performances. On May 21, the studio will host Jam Academy Metal Showcase #10 with Six Days of Darkness and By Default. Admission to the all-ages show is $2. For more information, call 425-402-3700.