The Offbeats are coming together as a group, Alexis Sutton said, but she still gets the jitters.
“I’m always nervous,” she said, of the moments before a gig. “But we are so comfortable as a group, it’s going to be great.”
Sutton, a vocalist in the rock band, was talking about an appearance at the Phil Clarke Bene t coming 7 p.m. Feb. 29 at Bru 64, 64 Main St., Cortland.
Three other groups from Cortland Junior Senior High School’s modern band class will appear at the event — The Screw Drivers, also high school level, and The Butter Chunks and Bikini Bottoms, both from the eighth grade.
Mel Drake and Tanglewood, Cloey Tierno and Colleen Kattau and friends, all from the area, will appear as well. Kattau and Drake have been playing at the benefit for more than two decades.
Donations will go to the Cortland Youth Bureau Youth Scholarship Fund, which provides music lessons to kids in need.
Clarke was a Cortland area musician who played in a number of bands, including keyboards for Eddy’s Basement. An Eagle Scout and outdoor enthusiast, he was an advocate for education, especially for young people. He died of cancer in 1996 and his friends renamed the music benefit in his honor in 1998.
For 32 years, the benefit has played around Cortland. At one point, proceeds went to the Cortland Memorial Hospital maternity department. At another, proceeds went to students in need for vocational classes. For the past 20 years, proceeds have gone to the youth bureau music program.
Students interested in accessing music lessons can apply at the 35 Port Watson St. youth center, said Lorie Bethel, youth services specialist. Eligible kids can get 12 free lessons.
Sean Tuohy teaches guitar and Sloane Treat teaches drums and keyboards. There are also acoustic and electric guitars to borrow and a drum set that can be used at the center.
“I see all the time how great these music lessons are for the kids and how appreciative kids are,” she said. “It speaks to who we are as a community. We’re trying to keep the music scene alive and bring the younger generation along into it.”
The youth bureau has a stage with sound system and lights. Kids can practice in sound-proof practice rooms.
Bethel started collaborating with Jennifer Rafferty, music department chairwoman at Cortland High School when the modern band class started; students would perform at the youth bureau. “This year I started going to the classroom,” Bethel said, twice a week helping the kids and teachers. She encourages them to play at monthly band nights.
A music lover, she rocks out with the kids, who are awesome, she said.
The goal of modern band is to allow students to discover their own music, said Rafferty, who teaches the course with Steve Bellamy.
“And give them tools to do that in a way they (want), playing the instrument they want and the music they want,” Rafferty said.
“Kids we have seen graduate two, three years ago are playing out,” she said. “They are playing at Bru 64. They are playing at Porchfest. They are playing at Rose Hall. They are playing at the Cortland Youth Bureau.”
“This is about the musical culture of Cortland,” she added. “Everyone knows that Cortland has a rich history of music.”
Cortland’s music teachers want to keep that going, not just for modern band, but in the choir, in orchestra and jazz classes.
As for the Phil Clarke benefit: “I am looking forward to seeing how it goes,” Rafferty said. “I am so grateful for the Cortland Youth Bureau and all its supporters. They are a big part of allowing our kids to be successful.”
Students in modern band also learn to set up a practice schedule and create their own songs.
This month, students gathered to hear song ideas by classmates. Rafferty stressed kindness in offering feedback.
“The favorite thing I learned was how to work with the gear and pack it up and stuff,” said Angela Lang, a vocalist and keyboardist with The Offbeats. “I learned ways to wrap up cords and adjust the mic.”
“Over the course of this year, we have become more comfortable,” said Nicole Simpson, a vocalist and guitarist with The Offbeats.
Sutton said one of the projects in class was to take a classical song and make it their own.
“They allow you to find your own voice,” said singer Allie Edwards. She also knows how to play guitar and ukulele. “You are able to adapt to everything thrown at you. In a positive way,” she said.
The Offbeats, in existence a year, played at a jamfest in Windsor and twice at the Cortland Youth Bureau.
“Some of us were comfortable playing on stage,” said drummer Annie Barnes, who plays in the Von Barnes Band her father, brother and friends. “We have helped others become more comfortable.”
“It’s about being able to build bonds,” Sutton said. “Being able to play what you want to play with other girls.”
“And have fun with music,” Edwards said.