It is the second night of Spirit Week and the Bobcat Den is packed for the Student Government Association (SGA) Programming Board’s “Rock the Den.” I had positioned myself directly in front of one of the largest speakers-the closest seat I could get to the performers. Suddenly, everyone is in full attention, eyes glued to the right corner of the room, as AC-147, a group of sophomores who came together last year to form a blues hard rock band shake the Den out of its slumber with their original opening lick, “Rolling On.”
I’m no longer looking at my watch every 5 seconds or so. Time stands still now, as the coffee house setting transforms itself into that of a Cream concert at the Garden. As the sound resonating from the giant speaker blasts eardrums, I listen in awe as the fancy guitar work of both T.J. Fitzpatrick and Chris DiBerardino, coupled with the steady, pounding drum beat of Justin Schussler, brings the venue to life.
So who is AC-147?
Last year, Fitzpatrick met AC-147 keyboardist Richie Travers while living in Dana English Hall as a freshman. Travers, whose father played professionally, was a seasoned pianist who had been taking lessons since he was a child. Despite extensive experience playing a variety of instruments including clarinet and saxophone, Travers had never played in a rock band in high school.
“As far as bands go this is definitely my first band experience,” he said.
Fitzpatrick, who has been playing guitar for only three and a half years, had a relatively limited musical background compared to his AC-147 co-founder.
“I’m like the bastard child of this band,” Fitzpatrick said, leaning back in his chair in his Mountainview dorm, a wide grin across his face. “You’ve got four other guys who are well trained, and I’ve been playing for three and a half years.”
It was during his sophomore and junior years at Foxboro High School in Massachusetts that Fitzpatrick became truly serious about playing. Influenced by the Led Zeppelin tracks “Dancing Days” and “The Ocean,” Fitzpatrick enrolled in a music class at his school, studying everything from the basic fundamentals to various styles utilized by popular musicians from the sixties, seventies, and eighties.
“I heard that and I was like ‘Wow, I have to get more of this, whatever this was’,” Fitzpatrick said. “I just took that knowledge and applied it to everything I wanted to do.”
Fitzpatrick and Travers later jammed together, forming the band that would go on to win the freshman talent show that year. Despite the band’s early success, the other two members, a singer and a drummer, did not stay in contact with Fitzpatrick and Travers after the talent show.
When Fitzpatrick posted a Facebook ad expressing interest in forming a band, Chris DiBerardino, a Wantaug, N.J. native and heavy metal guitarist who loves to play Metallica riffs, answered the call.
The band held regular practices in AC-147, the large, dusty room in the back of the athletic center with the huge piano shoved in the corner, thus prompting the name. AC-147 members recall scrambling to write songs and rehearse – only two weeks before the 2007 Battle of the Bands – in their first ever jam session as AC-147, in AC-147.
The original AC-147 lineup, which included drummer Steve Lipschutz, (who was replaced during the spring of last year by Schussler), would take third place in the 2007 Battle of the Bands at Quinnipiac University.
Although Travers played bass guitar for the band in the beginning, AC-147 needed someone to replace that position so that Travers could utilize his keyboard talents. Enter Charles Woodruff, a guitarist in the power metal band Myopia.
The summer of 2007 marked Lipschutz’s exodus from AC-147. The senior’s flashy jazz drumming did not mold well with the band’s hard rock style. That spring the band had recruited Schussler, who fit right in from the get go.
“This kid was just playing exactly how we wanted him to play,” DiBerardino said.
But the hardest part was yet to come. That summer, in a painstaking phone conversation, Fitzpatrick pulled the plug on Lipschutz.
A Greenlawn, N.Y. native, Schussler knew that he wanted to be a drummer ever since he saw the film “That Thing You Do” when he was in fourth grade.
In seventh grade Schussler got his first drum set. He was self-taught until high school, where he began taking lessons for the first time.
When Schussler saw the ad on Facebook for AC-147, he immediately contacted Fitzpatrick, but the band had already had a drummer. An assignment for journalism class would allow him to interview Fitzpatrick. The two soon realized that they had a lot in common and Schussler began hanging out with the other band members. He would become the latest addition of AC-147 by the end of the semester.
So what’s next for AC-147?
Although the band members intend to continue playing together through their college years, commitment issues have rendered AC-147’s longevity.
Will there be a future for AC-147, the talented group of musicians who came together in the back of a gymnasium? Will they feel the “Slip” as life catches up with them, or will they keep “Rolling On”?