Boomer Bands Rock for Fun and Maybe Profit

Weekend guitar heroes leave their garages to play gigs.

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For the matchless—that is, musicians without a band—dozens of music stores nationwide offer the Weekend Warriors program. Essentially, it serves as a band matchmaker. The goal is to round up musicians who abandoned their guitars for careers and kids, says Skip Maggiora, who runs Skip's Music in Sacramento, Calif. "We try to make it easy, so it takes a minimal amount of time and effort to get them playing again," he says. The four-week classes, which cost $100, start with an open jam, progress to a weekly coaching and rehearsal session, and culminate in a concert. The stores supply the equipment (with the idea that participants will eventually buy their own instruments).

There are no mirrors in the store's rehearsal room, Maggiora says. Instead, old album covers line the walls. "When they pick up a guitar and start playing a song, we don't want them to feel self-conscious," he says. "We want them to walk out of rehearsal on cloud nine." Bands typically stick to the basics: classic songs that are relatively easy to play, such as "Proud Mary" and "Whipping Post." However, Skip's Music has one song on its no-play list: the ubiquitous "Mustang Sally."

Second adolescence. There are also classes for the inexperienced. Phil Rowley of the North County Academy of Music Performance in Vista, Calif., offers an eight-week class—similar to Maggiora's program—that caters to both experienced musicians and novices. Although such classes have long been popular with men, Rowley says he's enrolling almost as many women this year. They include 52-year-old Susan Corrales, who took the class to learn some rock tunes on the piano so she could jam with her teenage sons, and Sharen Wahl, who signed up for the class with a desire to play drums and no experience whatsoever.

Older adults looking to play concert music rather than rock-and-roll might consider the New Horizons program, a national network of 120 amateur bands, choirs, and orchestras made up mostly of retirees (the average age is 67). Don Coffman, a music professor and director of the Iowa City New Horizons Band, says the focus is more on teaching than perfecting. "We try to attract people who have never played or people who used to play. The idea is that you don't have to be all that great," he says. For many players, the benefits go far beyond music education: Studies show that playing a musical instrument relieves stress and treats some neurological conditions. The program also provides plenty of social opportunities. Says Coffman: "The popularity of these bands is an indication that boomers are not just going to sit around—they're keeping sharp and active."

You don't have to tell that to the Accounting Crows: They're already planning a world tour.