News Column

These suburban kids rock together onstage

July 18, 2013


The guitar starts playing the first notes of "Stairway to Heaven" and the crowd stirs on a recent Saturday at Taste of Lakeview in Chicago.

When the voice begins to sing, those who are still distracted can't help but turning toward the stage. It's not Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, of course, but it's not a man's voice, either. Or a woman's, for that matter.

It's the sweet, young but confident voice of 8-year-old Nikko Viejon of North Aurora, lead singer of the band , accompanied on the guitar by Danny Cappelli, also 8, of Geneva. Soon they're joined by bandmates Alexandra "Alex" Cappelli, Danny's sister, on the bass, and Cohen Bessler, 10, of St. Charles, on the drums.

Before you know it, the crowd has doubled in size and people are recording the show on their cellphones.

The kids, who've been playing together for about a year and a half, say they just love, love, love being onstage.

"When you hear that roar of the crowd, it's like 'wow,'" Cohen said.

"You get to play and hang out with your friends, and that's cool," Alex said.

LiveWire already has performed at several well-known venues and festivals, including Hard Rock Cafes in Chicago and Memphis and the "NeXt by NE" portion of the music festival in Toronto. They perform a repertoire by a variety of rock and pop artists, including Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Adele, Jimi Hendrix, Blondie and The White Stripes. They have written two original songs, both in the rock and pop vein.

"From the first few bars of 'Stairway to Heaven', the first song in their set, I could tell this band was going to be something else," said Sergio Elmir, assistant artistic associate for music, community and educational programs at Harbourfront Centre, which hosted North by Northeast. "They ripped through a powerhouse playlist of classic and contemporary rock songs that left us all blown away."

The crowd was enthusiastic, even enthralled with their performance, he said.

The kids clicked from the moment they first played together, said band director Ken Mandat.

All were taking individual lessons at Hix Brothers Music in Batavia when Mandat put them together as a band for the music school's "Rock Around an Hour and a Half" class. Kids are paired based on their age and skill level, and learn how to play and work together.

"I just had a feeling that chemistry was going to be good with those four children. It took off right from the start," said Mandat.

The kids' parents have all become good friends, and share a desire not to overwhelm the children, said Cohen's dad, Larry Bessler.

"We're trying to make sure it stays fun and not a job that they feel they're being pushed into. At the same time, we feel like we're opening their eyes to the music and the power they have," he said.

The band has grown tremendously since their first performance in February 2012 at the Yorkville Moose Lodge, their parents said. "They talk much better and communicate onstage. Before each was in their own silo," Bessler said.

As for whether LiveWire will be around for the long haul, it's too early too tell, Mandat said. For one, 8-year-old prodigies attract more attention than teen musicians, he said.

But the main ingredients for success -- having talent, being well- rounded and having supportive parents -- are all there, Mandat said. "I believe the sky's the limit," he said.

LiveWire is scheduled to perform either Aug. 11 or 12 at in Naperville; Aug. 15 at the in Springfield; and Aug. 25 at in Palatine. Their Facebook page is .

* Elena Ferrarin wrote today's column. She and Kimberly Pohl always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608- 2733.

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