ROSCOE VILLAGE — Catch the next Wilco or Waco Brothers at Lane Tech's Lane-a-palooza, a day-long battle of the high school bands featuring tomorrow's up-and-comers as part of a fundraising effort to support Lane's new recording engineering program.
The Blisters (featuring Spencer Tweedy, son of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy) and the UnGnomes (featuring Jimmy Langford, son of the Waco Brothers Jon Langford) — who've already snagged gigs at the Beat Kitchen and Martyr's (the Blisters even played at Lollapalooza in 2006) — are among the bands scheduled to appear Friday evening.
The session will also feature Lane Tech alum and "American Idol" contestant Kiara Lanier.
An afternoon session showcases current Lane Tech student bands — with a Lane teacher thrown into the mix for added fun, including Principal Christopher Dignam sitting in with The Delta 88s.
Joe Sweet, Lane Tech's guitar teacher, is organizing the event and performing with his band, The Chicago Blues Syndicate.
"When I went to high school, I didn't have a music class," said Sweet. "It was marching band or choir."
By contrast, Lane students are required to take a year of music in order to graduate. The school offers music appreciation courses, music theory and increased its number of guitar classes from three to seven.
More than 250 students recently performed at an annual guitar concert held as a thank you to House of Blues, which donates instruments to the program.
At Lane, students with the highest grade point averages get first crack at electives like guitar.
"I had 200 students on a waiting list and they all had GPAs of 4.0," Sweet said of the need for expansion. "These are some of our top kids. They're taking who knows how many [advanced placement] classes — this is a stress relief."
"Our only homework is to practice," said junior Adam Sacha, 17, who added that selections run the gamut from Bruno Mars to Beethoven.
"Students can't just learn the whole day, and not everybody's into sports," he said. "All electives are necessary."
Junior Carlos Soto, 16, attempted to sign up for beginning guitar his sophomore year, but his 2.9 GPA wasn't up to snuff. He pulled it up to a "3.8 or 3.9" to get into the class.
"It's very important to express yourself and let it out in some form or fashion," he said.
A self-taught musician, Soto has been playing guitar since he was 9 years old.
"I didn't even know the names of the strings," he said. In guitar class, he's since learned scales, chords and music history and theory.
Senior Rachel Cheng, who's playing Lane-a-palooza with her band Vexed, actually chose to enroll at Lane based on the strength of its guitar program.
The 18-year-old was already proficient on the piano and viola but fell hard for bass guitar listening to Green Day.
"I like the deep tone quality. It has that driving force to it — it keeps everyone together," she said.
In the 2012-13 school year, the guitar program took over a large, garage-like space that was formerly home to an auto mechanics class. In the 1940s, the room housed Lane's aviation program, where students learned to repair jet engines.
Installing a recording studio — the primary equipment expense will be 35 iMacs — maintains the room's "tech" tradition, with a thoroughly modern twist.
Where most music programs focus on music education or music performance, sound engineering provides a practical skill that could carry over to jobs in television, radio or movie production, said Sweet.
Lanier, a 2009 Lane grad who's also performed for President Barack Obama, credits the school's variety of music options with expanding her horizons.
"I love folk, indie, jazz, soul, Middle Eastern. A lot of that came from Lane," she said.
Lanier joined the school's jazz combo her junior year as the group's lone vocalist.
"I really found my voice," she said of the experience. "It's where I first really got my wings."
Lane-a-palooza, 2501 W. Addison St., kicks off at 3:30 p.m., April 26, with an afternoon Battle of the Bands, running until 5:30. Tickets are $3 in advance or $5 at the door. Doors open for the evening session at 6:40 p.m. Tickets are $10.