The ruby anniversary of rocking: Guitar Night 2016


Niki Maragos

Andrew Carr shares his passion onstage

Nicole Poitras, A&E Editor

The lights hung low over the empty stage. The back curtains were pulled aside, revealing a black painted brick wall — the back wall of the stage, which is rarely visible to the audience during a typical production. But appropriately, this wasn’t a typical production. Names of those performing in Guitar Night of 2001 were scrawled on the wall in fluorescent spray paint. Mark Illingworth, math and graphic design teacher, stood, examining the simple industrial-themed set, and took a deep breath.


“I was terrified,” Illingworth said,  reflecting 15 years later on the grand opening of HB’s largest musical attraction.


After Illingworth stopped playing guitar in high school,  he took the instrument back up at the age of 40. When he came to Hollis Brookline, he became aware of the number of fantastic guitarists at the school that had no opportunity to showcase their skills. “There [was] a band and a chorus, but nothing for guitar,” Illingworth said. “So I wanted to create an event that would not be a battle of the bands, because I wanted cooperation not competition, but a night for guitarists to show what they did.”


Thus, he developed Guitar Night, an annual event where high school musicians of all genres can play and sing to their heart’s content for an audience that is just as passionate about what they’re hearing. Over the past 15 years, Guitar Night has grown from a one-night gig with a handful of musicians to over fifty performers spanning two jam-packed evenings.


A wide variety of acts were showcased at this year’s Guitar Night, which took place on May 13 and 14. It was two special nights for veteran participants such as seniors Andrew Carr, Eric Wing, and Vanessa Hale, among others who have participated all four years of their high school careers.


“I went in seventh grade for the first time and I thought it was really cool that students were putting together these bands and playing on a real stage, and that inspired me to want to do it myself,” said Carr of his decision to partake in Guitar Night. “So my freshman year I got all my buddies together to form a band and we played and I kept doing it because it’s a lot of fun and it’s a really good community.”


The community that Andrew spoke of was evident in both shows.


Night one was all about fun. The show opened with, appropriately, The Very First Band (Aaron Velez ‘17, Nathan Catalanotti ‘17, Eric Wing ‘16, Ethan King ‘17, Nick Sengstaken ‘16, and Nick Franzini ‘18) who performed “Rio.” In Brandon Fox ‘16 and Takuma Okada ‘16’s performance of “The Big Sleep,” Fox delighted the audience with his sky-high falsetto when he sang the female portion of the duet. The mood changed drastically, however, when Frank Pugh ‘18 and Kristianna Fox ‘17 performed a heart-wrenching rendition of “Say Something.” Between the passion in their voices and the emotion they expressed through their physicality, the pair delivered a number that left the audience in tears.


Just in time for intermission, the faculty band Senior Options brought the house down. The group consisted of Eric Perry on drums, Mark Illingworth on guitar, Dave Umstead on bass, Catherine Orzech on piano, Karen Johnson and Christina Ellis on backup vocals, and Matt Barbosa as the frontman. Barbosa’s bouncing about the stage was enough to get the audience on their feet and excited for more music.

[aesop_gallery id=”8919″]

Act 2 opened with the A Capella club’s unique performance of “Budapest.” The Andrew Carr Band (Carr, Wing, Pugh, Hale, Velez, Kristi Fox, Megan Cole ‘16, and  Abbey Kotelly ‘17) dominated the second half of the act with seven songs. To close the show, members of Senior Options returned as The Very Last Band with Hale joining Barbosa in singing “Gimme Shelter.”


The second night was, in a way, a bit more romantic, with two enchanting duets from Velez and Leah Stone ‘16 (“Cherry Wine”), and Kotelly and Carr (“Don’t Know Why”), along with a passionate solo from Okada (“Show Me Where It Hurts”). But there was no absence of fun. The Fuzzy Camsters (Carr, Wing, Patrick Bloniasz ‘18, and Cameron Vahe ‘17) presented two Red Hot Chili Peppers classics, “Californication” and “Under the Bridge.” To conclude Act 1, Illingworth stepped out with Carr, Wing, and Liam Flaherty ‘16 as Hot Apple Pi to express the teacher’s love of arithmetic through a face-melting performance of “Feel Like Doin’ (Math).”


Those who stuck around for Act 2 on Saturday were in for a treat. The admirable Jazz Combo, going by the name Horn on the Cob (Sengstaken, Wing, Okada, Catalanotti, Brandon Fox, Ethan King ‘17, Isaac Wimmer ‘18, Matt Bradshaw ‘17, and Luke Martin ‘17) blew the audience away with their two toe-tapping tunes, “Cornbread” and “Red Clay.” The Isaac Wimmer Band (Wimmer, Franzini, Hale, Nick Shepard ‘18, Peter Szczezynski ‘19, and Emma Maxwell ‘17) controlled the remainder of the show, performing eight numbers.


In between acts, emcees Bradley Simpson ‘16 and Lauren Moura ‘17 kept the crowd in stitches with improv jokes and even some slapstick poetry.


“My favorite part was just getting to jam out with all these different bands and being able to mess around. It may have been stressful at times but it definitely had its fun breakthroughs,” Velez said of his Guitar Night experience.


Guitar Night has proven once again to be more than just a concert, but a place for artists and fans alike to share their passion for music.


If you are interested in becoming a part of the legacy, you can text @jimmypage to 81010 to begin receiving notifications about auditions and shows. Still on the fence? Take first-time Guitar Night performer Juliette Linder ‘16’s advice:
“Just go for it, you know? You don’t have anything to lose.”