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Ken Wiegand: Big Bamboo

Guitarist works with the next generation

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At 35, Ken Weigand decided he was done with music. But even though he had a straight job running an architectural business, the bass player for Big Mama E and the Cool said he found it difficult to give up.

"I tried to go the straight and narrow route," Weigand sighs, "and kept finding that life just wasn't happening for me. I felt like I should be doing something I could really commit to and would be satisfying to me."

So Weigand dumped his business and created his own musical conglomerate, Bamboo Music--an "umbrella concept," he says, that covers teaching, recording and producing.

In addition to teaching basic guitar and bass skills, Weigand stresses songwriting and performance skills. But one of Bamboo's big draws is that it also teaches survival skills for the music industry. "As some parents have said, you wind up teaching more life skills than you do music."

To show students what it really took to be good, Wiegand recruited a handful of local music professionals--like songwriter Thad Cockrell and Chatham County Line's John Teer--to work as mentors.

Weigand, who was a successful musician by high school, credits his young success to being supported by adults who recognized his talents and fostered them. Weigand believes that his relationship with his students is important to them, so he tries to reward them the way he gets rewarded in the industry. "You work hard, you keep your head up, you keep your attitude straight up, you keep your ass out of trouble and you'll go far."

Though Bamboo will take on anyone, there's a six-week trial program to assess a potential student's work ethic. All students are told that all they have to do is practice and keep a good attitude. "But if you feel like you know more than I do, and you're not willing to put the time and effort into it, then that doesn't reflect what gets me the privileges to work with the people I work with," Weigand says. "They just have to work at it--that's the bottom line."

Work ethic or not, there are couple of musical genres Weigand refuses to teach--Goth, and what he characterizes as "screech weasel stuff" that seem to draw in 12-to-14-year-old boys. They get drawn into what they see is the power structure in the music industry, he says. "What they're after is power, the babes, the parties. And they're really not interested in the long-term development. They're at that age when it really is important to get some kind of power from the world and demonstrate it. Every day they're staring at the video."

Weigand says being a musician isn't about how much theatrics you can bring to the stage. He'd much rather work with kids who will write a song and come into the studio and play and sing it for him. He sees part of his job as providing a place for students to show their talents and another part to get parents to understand more about young musicians. "When the parents and adults come in and all their concept of teen music is the Goth and the screech weasel stuff, I feel bad. What I'm trying to get 'em to understand is there's so much more going on than you would ever know, and those people need places to play."

His students have a chance to perform at Bamboo's regular stint on the second Saturday of every month at Six String Music Hall and Cafe in Cary. Six String owner David Sardinha, a former student of Weigand's, set up a noon to 2 p.m. slot to allow students and their families a chance to gather and share songs.

"Now it's turned into this really nice little meeting where the kids and parents come," says Weigand. "It's early in the day. These kids really get a chance to see music performed right in their face that they would never get a chance to. And then I try to bring a pro in to sort of highlight the show, and then these kids get a chance to play with 'em and interact with 'em."

His ultimate goal is to develop Bamboo as both a record company and a teaching facility, expanding into a program putting students to work with professionals in the community, from producers to recording engineers to musicians. "This is gonna be big for the kids," says Weigand of the interest in his program. "It's really gonna spark 'em up." EndBlock

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