January 18, 2022

Bands bang the drum for teen drummer

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Annie Barnes of Cortland practices playing the drums on Feb. 11, 2020 at her family’s garage studio.

When Annie Barnes was a little girl, she would pick up drum sticks and bang on everything.

Her dad, a piano player, didn’t stop her. “He kept buying me electric drum pads,” she said. “It grew on me.”

Now the 14-year-old from Cortland, a drummer in her family’s Von Barnes Band, is taking her sticks to Italy, Croatia, Austria, Germany and Switzerland for an American Music Abroad tour July 3 to July 22.

And musicians are donating their time for the Music Festival AMA Fundraiser to help get her there.


Annie’s dad, Brett Barnes of Cortland, a part-time IT technician at Plan First Technology, is organizing the event 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. March 7 at Rose Hall, 19 Church St.

Fourteen acts, so far, will fill two stages, with the likes of Chasing Neon, Chris Merkley, Dread Intrepid, Rotten Johnny and Dimitri Cosimo. A 5:50 p.m. drum battle will feature Barnes and Nate Horton, drummer for Ten Man Push, who’s been playing drums for 28 years.

“We’re going to have fun and play off each other and we will each have our moment to do our own solo,” Horton said. “It’s going to be very cool. Young versus old.”

There will be T-shirts and food by Rex’s Pasta, jams and T-shirts.

Brett Barnes, a single dad and widower, is pulling out all the stops to help pay for the $5,400 trip.

“We have been working our butts off,” he said. “We have volunteers to run sound and wrangle the bands. Chris Merkley and myself have sound equipment, all stuff that we own. Chad Bennett IV is the sound guy for Chasing Neon.”

Bennett will provide sound. Brett Barne’s sister-in-law, Lisa Morasco, is volunteer coordinator.

David McNeil of McNeil Development offered the use of the hall. The Vietnam Veterans of America, Post 377, will usher. And 20 businesses donated raffles for the event, with basket themes of wine and drinks for adults, pizza, coffee and cocoa.

“That band line up came about in two days,” Barnes said. “Everybody is from around here.”

“It’s going to be a great fundraiser. It’s going to be amazing,” said Annie Barnes.

The family also organized a spaghetti supper at a church to help fund the trip.


Barnes said at the parent meeting for the trip, he saw the look of dejection on other parents’ faces when they heard the cost. There’s other costs as well — passport, luggage. “I can’t afford it. But I wasn’t going to let that stand in the way,” he said.

Annie’s music teacher announced the AMA trip in school.

“If you play at New York State School Music Association level five or above, if you want to go to Europe, sign up,” Annie was told. Level six is the highest.

She qualified and signed up. Her music teacher recommended her, and she was invited to play.

There will be 155 kids from northern New Jersey and upstate New York attending. Barnes will be the only drummer for the jazz ensemble. There is one other percussionist for concert band.

The kids will play a concert in Salzburg with a local school ensemble, a concert in Rome, a children’s festival in Germany and a concert in the Alps in Austria, sprinkled with cultural trips, too.

Annie needs to be willing to spend three weeks on a bus, without parents and friends, but with like-minded musicians.

She will play with three of the performing groups: choir, jazz ensemble and concert band.


Annie started percussion lessons in third grade with her teacher, Eileen Allen.

At the end of the year, her dad went to a school concert, sat in the front row, and was amazed to see his daughter playing the drums for Barry School’s jazz band. She was introduced as the first drummer to play at Barry School in its first jazz band ever.

The next Christmas, she had her first drum set, Barnes said. “I never told them they couldn’t do stuff.”

Annie also plays in the family’s Von Barnes Band, with her dad, the bass player, her brother, Gino, 12, on electric guitar and friends: Elliot Brown on vocals and Jen Newman on keyboards, trombone and piano.

Annie takes private lessons from Dennis DeRado and school lessons from teacher Kim Sanderson at Cortland High School. She’s in The Offbeats, a rock band from her modern band class.

“I practice almost every day,” she said.


“She’s good,” said Horton, 41, who also plays with Dave Feinstein’s Rods and the band Pull.

He took notice of Annie two years ago.

“Drummers in this area are hard to come by,” he said. And drumming can be challenging.

“You have to be aware of what other people are playing and the volume,” he said. “As a young drummer myself, I didn’t grasp that. You always think you have to be as loud as possible.”

“You have to be able to separate your brain: Left hand, right hand. Left foot. Right foot. To somebody new, it’s probably foreign. It came naturally to me.”

“She’s got great timing, a good feel for the pulse of the song. Her skills are great as young as she is,” Horton said.

Barnes will practice her mallet playing, using sticks with yarn on the end, used with xylophones, to prepare for the trip.

“I need to brush up on that. Definitely brush up on rudiments,” she said.

“There are 40 rudiments they have to learn,” said Brett Barnes — like a single stroke roll.


As for the benefit:

“When I first heard about the amount of bands playing, I got so overwhelmed,” said Annie Barnes. “Oh my God. This is an amazing opportunity. All these people are playing for me to go to Europe,” she said. “All of things that are happening in the benefit, it’s crazy to think.”

If you go

What: Music Festival American Music Abroad Fundraiser
Where: Rose Hall, 19 Church St., Cortland
When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. March 7
Why: To fund a trip to Europe for 14-year-old Annie Barnes of Cortland
Cost: $10 at door; buy a presale ticket at Ticketweb and get a free raffle ticket at door.

The bands

Main stage in the chapel:
Chasing Neon
Throw Down Cold Dimitri Cosimo
Von Barnes Band
The Benefit Band
Iron Block Blues Band Rotten Johnny
The X’Plozionz!!! Rogue Sound
Dead Intrepid
Chris Merkley

Playing downstairs:
Espressivo Flute Quartet
Seven Leaf Clover
Cortland Camerata