Wizards of rock

Wizards of rock

Four years ago, Paul DeGeorge and his brother, Joe, had a “silly little idea” about a conceptual band with a very specific focus: Harry Potter.

This Sunday, the product of that idea will culminate as the DeGeorges’ band, Harry and the Potters, hosts their second annual Yule Ball at the Middle East Downstairs.

“We’re heavy into Christmas and had the whole Potters thing going on … it made total sense to combine the two in a big, awesome fun Christmas party,” DeGeorge said.

Last year’s ball at the same location sold out with nearly 600 people in attendance and had to turn another 200 people away, he said.

“When we did it last year, we didn’t quite know what to expect and we just encouraged people to get dressed up … because the Yule Ball is like the Hogwarts equivalent of the prom,” he said. “[The] show was just amazing; it was one of our favorite shows of all time. It just blew us away.”

In order to allow more people to attend, a Yule Ball was scheduled in Philadelphia last Saturday, and two shows, at 12:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., will take place at the Middle East this Sunday.

The afternoon show will feature opening performances by Uncle Monsterface, The Remus Lupins, Potter Puppet Pals and The Hungarian Horntails, and the evening show will feature Jason Anderson and the Best, Draco and the Malfoys and other special guests.

Tickets cost $12 for one show and $22 for both, with $2 from each ticket going to benefit Reach Out and Read, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting early literacy.

The idea for Harry and the Potters stemmed from the worldwide popularity of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and an interest playing in unconventional venues like libraries and bookstores, DeGeorge said.

“I was captivated by the fact that these books had really positively affected so many people and got them interested in reading,” he said. “We were hoping we could sort of ride on that and get people interested in rocking as well.”

Harry and the Potters’ songs reflect the series’ stories and plotlines told from the perspective of Harry Potter himself. Other bands use inanimate objects or stray away from specific characters.

The band formed rather spontaneously.

In 2002, after a couple of bands canceled for a show in his parents’ backyard in Norwood, DeGeorge said he and his brother decided to salvage the show by moving Harry and the Potters beyond an inside joke and “give it a shot.”

“We whipped up the band that morning and wrote six or seven songs to play later that afternoon,” he said. “Since then it’s worked out pretty well for us.”

Since that first performance, the band has put out three albums and one Christmas compilation, toured playing in libraries, bookstores, parks and clubs across the United States and spawned an entire new genre of music: wizard rock.

“It’s certainly something we never expected,” DeGeorge said. “Most of the activity happened in the last year or so and it’s been really cool to watch it happen … We’re not the best musicians or the best songwriters necessarily, but that doesn’t really matter when you’re playing music that you enjoy.”

Nefret Salzberg, a high school senior from St. Paul, Minn., created a website about the trend at Wizardrock.org last August. Salzberg said she first heard about wizard rock while listening to Harry Potter podcasts, Pottercast and Mugglecast.

As “a one-stop shop for wizard rock news” she said the purpose of her site is to gather information on the bands as well as spread knowledge of wizard rock.

“A lot of people still don’t know [about it], but I’m working on them one at a time,” Salzberg said.

DeGeorge attributes the successes of the books and music to the fans having grown up with the series.

“That generation that has grown up with Harry and matured along with the reading level of the book has a very unique experience, and in my estimation those are the people who are the biggest fans of the book,” he said. “Nowadays if you’re in the 8- to 20-year-old age range and you haven’t read Harry Potter you are sort of on the outskirts of society, like the outcasts or like the weird kid that hasn’t read Harry Potter. It’s tossing the world upside down really, because it’s a book. It’s so funny to think that not reading a book is an uncool thing to do.”

Grace Kendall, a freshman communications major at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., is not only an ardent fan of what she refers to as “the wizard rock revolution,” but she also has her own wizard rock project – Snidget – which she started a year ago. She sings songs from different viewpoints of the book’s characters.

“We’ve grown up with these books … they came out when we were in middle school … and we were the ones counting down the days to midnight book releases and movie premieres,” she said. “Everybody loves the idea of magic, and [Rowling] presents it in such a believable way, as seventh graders we thought our Hogwarts letter could be in the mail.”

Her favorite part of being involved with the movement thus far was being interviewed for a feature-length documentary, Kendall said. The film, “Wizard Rockumentary: A Movie About Rocking and Rowling,” is being filmed by sisters Megan and Mallory Schuyler to explore the culture of the genre.

Kendall said she started her project after learning of other bands besides Harry and the Potters and as an excuse to finally learn how to play a hammered dulcimer (a classical stringed instrument) that she received as a gift. Although Kendall hasn’t yet played a live show, she said she allows people to download her songs through her MySpace website.

Kendall said she drove to the Yule Ball in Philadelphia last weekend to see the bands that inspired her to play for the first time.

“Clearly [Harry and the Potters] don’t mind if other people are doing this,” she said when she heard about Draco and the Malfoys.

In fact, DeGeorge said the founders of Draco and the Malfoys, brothers Brad Ross and Brian Mehlenbacher, are close friends of his. The band was originally created for a Harry Potter-themed house party at the home of Matt Maggiacomo of The Whomping Willows, and later opened for the last show of the Harry and the Potters summer tour in 2005, he said.

While Harry and the Potters are considered the “fathers of wizard rock,” there are now over 150 bands across the country and around the world, according to Liz Clements, the founder of Wizrocklopedia.com, a website dedicated to “sharing the evolutionary process [of the genre] with the world.”

“I think it’s really amazing the way it’s caught on,” Clements said. “Literary rock in general is catching on, mainly because of the wizard rock and Harry Potter.”

At the Yule Ball last year, Clements first encountered many of the bands after volunteering to make dress robes for Draco and the Malfoys through a posting in a Livejournal community.

“[The ball] was insane. They had all these bands there that I didn’t really know who they were,” she said. ” We had to wait an hour to get in and we had tickets. It was nuts. There were so many people there and it was a really good time.”

DeGeorge said he sees wizard rock as a starting point for some young musicians.

“In the long run, for a lot of these kids this is their first experience with playing and experimenting with music and this will only lead them to further self discovery,” he said. “If they like playing in bands and performing maybe they’ll go on and continue with that outside of Harry Potter, I think that’s definitely a good thing to have people feeling creative and inspired and wanting to do things along those lines.”

The future of Wizard Rock is uncertain as the Harry Potter series comes to an end with the seventh book, which Rowling is currently writing.

“[It] really depends on the performers and whether or not they want to continue to perform when the series is over,” Clements said. “I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere, but, if anything, Wizrocklopedia will be there to preserve it. If we don’t want it to go, it won’t.”

DeGeorge agreed the music wouldn’t be gone entirely with the end of the series.

“I think once the seventh book is published the fan culture will suffer a serious drop in enthusiasm, and I think from our perspective that’s going to sort of prove to be a somewhat natural conclusion,” DeGeorge said. “I’m not going to say we’ll quit altogether because we do have a ton of fun with it, but we might focus on a handful of shows a year that are more on the lines of the Yule Ball.”

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