'In Poway, it was either sports or bands, and I don't do sports," says Sean Barrett, guitar player for the Perils of Being. "Poway is just a small town, a city in the country. There wasn't much to do except music." Many San Diegans are aware that Poway was the starting point for successful bands like blink-182, Unwritten Law, and Louis XIV. Does this make Poway, as the city claims, a "launching pad for world-famous rock bands"?
"I don't know if it's a launching pad," says Brian Wahlstrom of Hornswaggled. "It might be an area where bands start, but bands start all over San Diego." Both Hornswaggled and the Perils of Being will be performing at Poway's first "Character Rocks" street fair on Sunday, November 13.
"It's, like, when [the band] the Used came out of Utah, there were no bands coming out of Utah," Barrett says. "But they came out and made it big in two years, and all of a sudden it was like, 'It must be because they came from Utah.'" Most bands in Poway begin playing at house parties. "Occasionally [bands] will rent out the community center." The Perils of Being will be hosting a show at the Poway Community Center in January to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina.
"I think people just have more time [in Poway]," says Wahlstrom. "It's easier if you're in the 'burbs.' You can build a fan base through friends, which grows into people you don't know. In downtown [people] are not as loyal. It's hard to get a start-up of fans. The most core fans we have even today are people we've known since we were little kids."
Barrett classifies his band as "ambient rock," and Wahlstrom refers to his as "heavy rock, even metal." After Seattle's boom of grunge music in the '90s, one might wonder if bands cultivated in Poway have their own specific sound. "It's got a punk edge," says John Riley, president of Trigger Direct, a direct marketing agency helping to organize the Poway street fair. "I think there are different flavors of punk and alternative, but it's definitely that kind of heavier hard rock. Some of it is more melodic than others. Some is poppy -- blink  is certainly poppy. I think it's just easy for a teenager to pick up a guitar and learn from it and learn from their friends [in Poway]."
When Riley took a closer look at the music scene in Poway, he was surprised. "At first glance, it's sort of a 'wow.' I had no idea. You scratch your head and you wonder why. Poway is a very suburban town. It kind of has this reputation of having a great school district and reasonably solid families. Generally speaking, you've got good kids. We're not next to the beach -- these kids don't have a whole lot to do, and they gravitate towards music. Because there have been bands like blink  that have come out of Poway and been so successful, they tend to be an inspiration for a lot of teenagers."
"I hope that music doesn't have to do anything with financial upbringing and stuff," says Wahlstrom. "A lot of our music in the beginning was this 'f-you' attitude about society, and it was very political. At some point, though, we realized we didn't have it so bad."
"Parents of a lot of these kids are very supportive," says Riley. "They're good-quality moms and dads that really support their kids' artistic effort. There are a lot of dads that play music in my neighborhood in Poway." Riley has two young children and plays cover songs with his band. "[These dads] play at neighborhood parties, block parties, and dive bars. They've created a culture that makes it possible for their kids to be musicians."
Though he doesn't think there is anything unique about Poway, Wahlstrom recognizes one aspect of small-town living that can help to launch a band. "It's a hometown for a lot of people who stay here for many, many years, and for the band to have that -- a core fan base to start off with -- really helps to get things going. Back in the Soma days [the club on Morena Boulevard] these kids would play a house party and then say, 'We got a gig at Soma,' and then hundreds of kids would go down to check them out at Soma."
Poway has hosted street fairs in the past, but, according to Riley, "It has traditionally been a vendor event with arts and crafts, a stage with little kids that do ballet, a hypnotist, a local cover band -- a community event that attracted ten or fifteen thousand people." The Poway Unified School District is attempting to teach "good ethics, honesty, integrity, and fairness" with the "Character Counts" initiative. The promotion of this initiative, along with the town's pride for its hometown bands, prompted the name "Character Rocks" for this year's more musical affair. -- Barbarella
Character Rocks Street Fair
Sunday, November 13
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Midland Road (one block north of Poway Road)
Info: 858-748-0016 or www.poway.com