From the school to the stage: Oak Park School of Rock student gets Lollapalooza gig

For Danny Huerta, a good performance is all about state of mind.

“Even though you feel stupid, if you commit to it, you don’t look stupid,” said Huerta, 17.

When Huerta recently slung on his guitar and stepped onto a stage at Lollapalooza, that mantra was likely at the fore of his mind.

The Guerin Prep student was among a select group who recently performed at the gargantuan summer musical festival in Chicago as members of the School of Rock AllStars. The ensemble of student-age musicians was handpicked from among the thousands who study at the hundred or so School of Rock franchises in the country.

The company emphasizes confidence-building through instructional lessons and live performances, with a whiff of big-haired, arena rock sentimentality permeating throughout.

Huerta attends the Oak Park School of Rock, at 219 Lake St. In recalling his first time playing music in front of an audience at the school, which opened in 2013, Huerta conceded that as he stood on stage, strumming along with a group of students doing their best impression of a rock band, he felt “pretty stupid.”

“I had no stage presence,” he said. “I just didn’t know what to do with my body while I was up there.”

The show was the first of many that Huerta would endure in his quest for stage poise. At later concerts, including shows at Schubas and the Beat Kitchen in Chicago, as well as an appearance at Summerfest in Milwaukee, Huerta began to come into his own; when he did feel a nervous tinge coming on during a set, he would chew gum or close his eyes for a moment to get his confidence back.

A Beatles fan from the start, he’s recently become more enamored with alternative acts such as Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and Alter Bridge — bands he discovered by listening to the radio station Q101 on car rides to school.

During the mid-day Lollapalooza gig, the AllStars’ performance took a markedly more classic rock bent, opening with “Stone Cold Crazy” by Queen. The band was prohibited from chewing gum on stage, per the school’s instruction.

Shortly after the band finished their first set, a rain and hailstorm briefly washed over the festival. Huerta said that the show had gone okay so far, despite some changes to the setlist.

“They cut a lot of songs, and now I’m only on two,” he said.

The band was scheduled to go on again in a few hours; Huerta was going to play guitar on “The Wizard” by Black Sabbath and Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way.” He was excited to play the set, which he expected would gather a much larger crowd than the early show.

“I’m sure the next one will be better,” he said.

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Read about Ernest Hemingway and his ties to Oak Park by clicking here.

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