Edge, Music

Frost group American Music Ensemble performs for first time at Okeechobee Fest

Songwriter Mel Bryant (senior), guitarist Aaron Hicks (senior) and keyboardist Sam Bierman (junior). Photo courtesy Colin McKinley

Moog and bass shook the tin-can stage at the Frost School American Music Ensemble’s first time performing at Okeechobee Fest. This past Friday, the group of nine performers and songwriters from the Bruce Hornsby Creative American Music program woke up Chobeewobee Village with fresh pop, rock and R&B originals. From Mel Bryant’s emotive ballad “Bridges,” to Carter Vail’s twangy “Bojangle,” AME’s set list was the ride one might expect from a curated group of the country’s best music students.

“The show went great. We drew in crowds. People, musicians, approached us,” said junior Anh Le, one of AME’s writers. “Every time we do something like this, it inspires me to get better at songwriting and practice more to better my confidence.”

As the band’s second festival this semester (and ever), Okeechobee offered AME unparalleled exposure. The band had only played campus shows in the past, but this semester, it has stormed the Florida scene. After its jazz community debut at Ground Up Festival, AME performed for Okeechobee’s international crowd of rock, rap and EDM fans. In this swell of 30,000 potential connections, some approached the band’s director, Frost professor Daniel Strange, with gigs in mind.

“There were quite a few people coming up to me who were very interested in who the group was and how it was put together,” Strange said. “A few people wanted our cards. They were like, ‘I want to book you guys, you were fantastic. I want to fly you to my university; I want to fly you to this party I’m having.’ This may suddenly open up opportunities for paid work for the students, as well as showcase the students at new venues, whether educational or professional.”

The musicians, too, are keen on AME’s advancing reputation. Those who have been with the group several years, like guitarist Conor McCarthy, build hope for their own successes by watching the band grow.

“The reputation has grown so much,” McCarthy said. “The name has a brand and association to it. When it comes to the seniors who are graduating, we all intend to move forward with our careers, whether performing, songwriting or composing, using the knowledge we gained in AME.”

AME is no college jam band. With its melodic, pop-bending sound and engrossing showmanship, it’s no doubt the band’s broken into the national scene. To see the group for yourself, catch the whole crew — songwriters Will Newman, Anh Le, Carter Vail and Mel Bryant, guitarists Aaron Hicks and Conor McCarthy, bassist Sara Keden, drummer Garrett Fracol, keyboardist Sam Bierman, sound engineer Amanda Abate and director Daniel Strange — at 8 p.m. April 21 during CAMFest in Clarke Recital Hall.

March 9, 2017

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Haley Walker


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