The sound of beating drums and wailing guitars can be heard echoing through the streets in the quiet village of East Aurora.
It’s Music Mania night at The Music Room. Tucked away in the Oakwood Plaza, the humble venue is a refuge for young musicians.
At The Music Room, all are welcome. That’s one of the reasons it stands out from other live music spots – it’s an all-ages venue. Owner Dave Hallett says he got the idea for the space while on his honeymoon.
“We were in Portland, Oregon, and we went to this place called the ‘X-Ray Café’. It was all ages, they didn’t serve alcohol. It was a pretty cool scene and we always were really impressed with that,” Hallett said.
Once his own kids began performing, Hallett saw how difficult it could be for underage musicians to book a gig.
“My younger kids, when they were growing up, they were playing in bands and what we realized is that if you’re under 21 and you’re a musician, it’s really hard to find a place to play.”
John Venezia is the President of the East Aurora Music Festival. But tonight at the Music Room, he’s one of the judges for Music Mania. The winning band in the contest scores a spot in the lineup at the East Aurora Music Fest. Venezia says The Music Room is a great gig for young artists.
“This is a way for kids to express their thoughts in music, in art, in literature. They can write a song to express themselves. Where else can a kid go, write their own song, go with their friends, and actually perform that particular song in front of their friends? I think it’s a really unique experience,” Venezia said.
Milo Duhn is a regular at The Music Room. On stage, he and his band, the Sad White Suburban Males, are a lively trio. But he wasn’t always a confident performer.
“When I was a freshman in high school, my school was having a talent show, and I decided to be part of it. So when I was on stage during the talent show, during the middle of the song I completely forgot the words and I just completely choked. And then in a scared way, I said some profanity into the microphone in front of that giant audience. And it was traumatizing for 15 year old me,” recalled Duhn.
After that night, Duhn thought his days as a performer were over.
“That was the one point in time where it really felt like I should just stop playing music because it was just so humiliating.”
But a few months later The Music Room opened its doors and Duhn built up the courage to perform at an open-mic night.
“I went down and I played a set. I was a little nervous, but it felt like I was coming back, kind of getting back in my own comfort zone with music,” he said.
These days, Duhn is performing in venues all across Western New York. He has even released his first studio album, Incongruity. For young musicians like Duhn, The Music Room serves as a stepping stone in their progression as an artist.
“I was really able to get into my own comfort zone at The Music Room as I just played along, which really helped me to build a name for myself in Buffalo and be more confident in booking shows, getting to know people, and just performing,” said Duhn.
Performers at The Music Room also have the opportunity to record their songs in a multi-track studio. Venezia says a professional recording space in a small community like East Aurora is a rarity.
“To have a recording studio in town like that is kind of a big deal. Not a lot of little towns have a quality studio like they have,” Venezia said.
For many young musicians, scraping together the cash to buy expensive music equipment can be daunting. But at The Music Room, performers are covered.
“When people play here, they just have to show up with their instruments. And we have house drums, and we have amplifiers, and we have guitars and basses too. So sometimes young performs are a little short on some of that stuff or their amps might be a little undersized. We can even give them that,” Hallett said.
Inside The Music Room sits an old Hammond Organ. It’s an echo from the past – a reminder of days long gone. But it has found a home in the space and like The Music Room itself, it’s a hidden gem, waiting to be discovered by the next generation of musicians. Hallett hopes The Music Room will continue to impact his community for years to come.
“We really want to embrace youth music and help the whole music scene in Western New York and East Aurora here. And I think in our own small way, we’re doing that,” Hallett said.
The Music Room recently announced it will relocate to a space on Main Street in East Aurora on July 1.