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Musicians band together for autism awareness event
by Nathan Orme
Aug 19, 2009 | 1800 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy photo -
Local rock band Dirt Communion is one of nearly 30 bands that will play Saturday for AUTFest to raise funds and awareness for autism. The band’s guitarist Eric Stangeland (far left) is one of the event’s organizers and has a young son with autism.
Courtesy photo - Local rock band Dirt Communion is one of nearly 30 bands that will play Saturday for AUTFest to raise funds and awareness for autism. The band’s guitarist Eric Stangeland (far left) is one of the event’s organizers and has a young son with autism.
slideshow
Courtesy/Lost in Reverie Photography -
Becky Beistline and Jeff Nicholson will perform at AUTFest in downtown Sparks on Saturday.
Courtesy/Lost in Reverie Photography - Becky Beistline and Jeff Nicholson will perform at AUTFest in downtown Sparks on Saturday.
slideshow
Denial. Anger. Acceptance.

Those emotions can be found interwoven in many of life’s experiences and, hence, many of life’s songs. One such experience doesn’t make its way into popular music much but is the driving force behind a gathering of musicians this weekend in Sparks.

AUTFest, taking place Saturday with nearly 30 bands playing at several venues on Victorian Avenue, is the brainchild of two local families dealing with the struggles of having children with autism. In March, Eric and Brandi Stangeland of Reno found out their young son has autism and when the initial emotions subsided, they began to search for others who were in their same situation. Thanks to the Internet, they found Dan and Shannon Springer of Sparks and their nonprofit organization Autism Matters. The Springers have a 9-year-old daughter with autism and seven years ago were in the same boat at the Stangelands.

“When we were were looking for information, we had to buy all these books and go to conferences and we thought it would be good to put it all in one spot,” Dan Springs said of his early efforts to learn about his daughter’s condition and the motivation to establish Autism Matters. “And we love music and we always had this idea of doing a huge rock show and something cool and hip for a fundraiser that would attract a family-type atmosphere.”

Thanks to Eric Stangeland’s local contacts, that idea is about to come to fruition. Eric, 34, and a long-time area musician and guitar teacher, formed his first band in Reno in 1992. Since then, he has taught guitar at Truckee Meadows Community College and Maytan Music and is currently the lead guitarist for Dirt Communion, a hard rock band reminiscent of Black Sabbath that will be among those playing AUTFest.

Eric and Brandi are also first-time parents coping with the trials of having an autistic child. Music is one of Eric’s outlets for his feelings.

“For me it’s more of when I write ... or just jamming or what not with the band I get in this mindframe where things are on your mind and writing music is a release,” Eric said. “Some songs I wrote were more of an anger type of thing and some instrumentals I’ve done on my (computer) are kind of happy when he’s having better days.”

Dirt Communion just released its first EP, “Antique Mechanic,” which will be available on iTunes and Amazon.com in about three weeks. Eric said the group’s lyricist, Mark Earnest, didn’t stick with a theme on the album and even if he did, each song means something different to each listener anyway.

“Music is very interpretive,” Eric said. “You can take something very different out of a song than the songwriter was meaning. ”

For more on the band and to hear music samples, go to www.dirtcommunion.com.

While his own band will be playing hard rock with similar groups at Vixen, there will be a variety of sounds at nearby spots. Playing at Great Basin Brewing Co. will be frequent guest Jellybread. Founded a year ago by Sparks High graduate Dave Berry, Jellybread often draws comparisons to the Dave Matthews Band, Ben Harper or even the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Berry founded the group just over a year ago after doing solo work in Southern California for a couple of years. A star high school and collegiate basketball player, Berry picked up a former roommate’s guitar while at Napa Valley College and “locked myself away for two years trying to figure the damn thing out.”

After college, Berry came back to the Reno area and played with a band for a while before he got the itch to go out on the road. His bandmates had established lives, so he headed out on his own but after two years found himself coming back to Nevada. As he got back into the area’s music scene, it didn’t take him long to get hooked up with the musicians that now comprise the funky/roots/reggae-sounding Jellybread: Michael Grayson on guitars and vocals, Clifford Porter on drums and vocals, Brady Carthen on bass and Adina Pearl on vocals. In April, the group released its first album, “Top Notch,” which is named for the barber shop in Sparks owned by Porter’s brother where the album was recorded.

Comprised of all original material, Berry said the music on “Top Notch” is about moving on and leaving the past behind — appropriate since his previous solo album was written as he was going through a divorce and was “a little depressing.”

Berry said when Stangeland asked him to have his band be part of AUTFest, he was happy to help.

“I have children and to have that put in your lap with this child you love dearly and deal with these problems ...” Berry said. “That’s why when Eric brought it up I said, yeah, I’d help out.”

For more about the band and to hear music samples, go to www.jellybreadmusic.com.

Eric Stangeland said he hoped Saturday’s event would appeal to all kinds of music lovers. To that end, Becky Beistline will play her originial folksy acoustic songs at Cantina Los Tres Hombres. A native of Fairbanks, Alaska, Beistline (pronunced “Bystlyne”) began playing guitar 16 years ago when she was 12, and produced her first album as a senior in high school. She named her debut album “Bittersweet” after her mother’s high school band.

Beistline put out a second album in 2000 called “Proof,” and after graduating college at the University of Alaska, she wanted to do something different, so she moved to Reno where she had two brothers attending college. Her brothers have since moved on but she is still here playing her “mix of folkish rockish kind of, I don’t know, it’s own little thing” music.

Right now she is in a hopeful place, writing songs like “Firm Believer” about never giving up, everything will be OK, just hang in there. She is also shopping around an album full of hopeful music and will bring some of that hope to Saturday’s autism fundraiser and awareness event.

“(For) any cause I think if you lose hope you’ve lost everything,” she said, noting that she worked with some autistic children when she studied education in college. “In general, anything you’re fighting for you have to have hope in the cause.”

For more information and samples of Beistline’s music, go to www.myspace.com/beckybeistlineband.

AUTFest starts at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Music will be playing at Vixen, Paddy and Irene’s Irish Pub, Cantina Los Tres Hombres and on the inside and outside stages at Great Basin Brewing Co. For $10, patrons will receive wristbands to attend shows at all of the locations. After 9 p.m., the shows are for those 21 and older.

For event information, go to Facebook or MySpace and search “AUTFest,” e-mail estand74@yahoo.com or go to www.autismmatters.org.
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