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They Grew Up Before Our Eyes!

June 30, 2009 - Jim Price

Not to throw a shameless plug to my present broadcast employer, but if you listen to Rocky 104.9 with any regularity, by now you’ve probably heard “I Get Off,” the first single from Halestorm and their self-titled Atlantic Records debut album released in April.  The song is achieving nationwide radio airplay; including several syndicated rock radio programs.  Halestorm will join Shinedown, Staind, Saving Abel and other bands on the “Stimulate This” concert tour starting in July.

Halestorm’s current success is the reward of a decade-long journey that started when two children were encouraged to indulge their musical interests by their supportive parents.  Halestorm originated from the small farming village of Bethel, PA (near Lebanon) in 1998, when 14-year-old aspiring songwriter, singer and keyboard player Elizabeth “Lzzy” Hale and her 11-year-old drum-playing brother, Arejay, began to create songs, and formed a band with their father, Roger Hale, playing bass.  The kids’ mother, Beth Hale, became their manager; a position she continued to serve with the group until just recently.

As Lzzy’s and Arejay’s musical interests grew and the pair created more songs, they soon recorded their first independent CD, Don’t Mess With The Time Man, which was issued in 1999. 

My first encounter with Halestorm happened in February, 1999 at the annual Millennium Music Conference in Harrisburg.  I met the Hale family, and saw Halestorm perform at an all-ages showcase stage on Harrisburg’s City Island.  (Altoona’s Misconceived was part of that same showcase bill.)

Two months later, in April, Halestorm traveled to Altoona for the first time to appear on my local music program on Q94, “The Backyard Rocker.”  Lzzy was 15 and Arejay was 12.  Songs from the Time Man CD were played on the show, and the Altoona listening audience experienced Halestorm for the first time. 

Later that month, Halestorm returned to Altoona to perform at Dennie Huber’s annual “Crazy Fest” Amateur Youth Talent Show, at that time held at the former A&J IAIA Post on 9th Avenue.  As Halestorm had already played a few paying shows by that point, they performed at Crazy Fest as an exhibition act, and didn’t compete for trophies.  But their one-song performance received rousing applause from the audience, and their first Altoona performance was a good one.

Days later, in early May, Halestorm returned to Altoona to perform at the Station Mall for a public service event called “A Family Affair.”  This would be the first time Altoona got to see Arejay’s spinning drum kit.  Inspired by Christian rock band The Newsboys, Arejay often played a drum kit that could spin upside down while he was performing.  The spinning drum kit was a highlight of Halestorm’s early performances. 

Halestorm would perform in the Altoona area several times over the next few years.  They entertained the 4th of July audience during Lakemont Park’s “Firestorm 2000” event, and also appeared at several of Q94 Radio’s annual “Q-Fest” concerts at the PPG Pavilion in Tipton and the Cresson Sportsmen’s Club.  Along the way, the group worked in a guitar player, and dad Roger stepped away from the group as other bass players were hired on.  The group also began to play at several area over-21 venues, including Peter C’s, the Altoona Gingerbread Man, and the Castle Pub in Ebensburg.  In 2002, Halestorm played to their biggest Altoona audience yet at the Lakemont Park Wing-Off. 

The group’s progress was interrupted briefly in 2003.  According to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s Liquor Code, a minor must be at least 18 years of age to perform on the stage of a liquor-licensed establishment.  (The Liquor Code does allow minors 16 and older to buss tables and wash dishes in a liquor-licensed establishment; interesting…)  Arejay was not yet 18, and several venue owners were notified that he was not permitted to perform in their establishments.  (A rival band promoter is believed to have tipped off authorities about his age.)  Halestorm’s bar-playing days in Pennsylvania were over, at least for the time being.

Strangely, this incident provided a turning point in Halestorm’s career; because instead of concentrating on learning cover songs to play on bar stages, Halestorm refocused their attentions to developing their own song material and becoming a concert stage act.  The group continued to attend music conferences such as Millennium and the Dewey Beach Music Conference in Delaware, and eventually attracted the interest of producer David Ivory, who had worked with Patti Labelle, Erykah Badu and others.  Ivory collaborated closely with Lzzy to help hone her songwriting skills.  And since Ivory was based in Philadelphia, Halestorm concentrated their operations to southeastern Pennsylvania and eastern Maryland, performing showcase events in Maryland (where the liquor code regarding minors performing was more lax) and Philadelphia.  It was during this period that the remaining pieces of the current Halestorm line-up – guitarist Joe Hottinger and bassist Josh Smith – joined the group.  Eventually the group hooked up with major management, and subsequently, Bill McGathy and McGathy Promotions, the promotional agency that helped such bands as Chevelle, Three Doors Down, Puddle Of Mudd and Shinedown break into the national scene.  By late 2005, Halestorm had signed a national recording deal with Atlantic Records, and the following summer released a 5-song live concert EP, One and Done.  The group relocated to and spent a period of time in Los Angeles, developing and recording songs for their eventual studio album.

Halestorm returned to the Altoona area last November to perform at a benefit show at 30 Something in Greenwood.  For anybody in attendance who had followed this group over the years, the show served clear notice that these kids had grown up before our eyes, and developed into sleek, top-caliber rock musicians.

Having witnessed their work ethic and dues-paying over the years, I can heartily say that success couldn’t have happened to a more deserving group of people.  The Halestorm organization is a class act.  They worked to get to where they currently are, and their success is the reward for busting tail and doing it the right way.

And now, as we hear “I Get Off” played on the radio, we in the Altoona area can say that we watched this band growing up, and got to know them when they were ‘the family band’ with the spinning drum kit.

On a final note, on this week’s edition of the nationally-syndicated hard rock radio program “Hard Drive” (which airs on Rocky 104.9 Sunday nights at 10 p.m.), Lzzy Hale did a promotional liner for the show to introduce the song “I Get Off.”  While I will never accept credit for any of Halestorm’s current success, I can proudly attest that Lzzy’s first experience doing a radio show liner happened during that first Halestorm appearance on my “Backyard Rocker” program in 1999!

 
 

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Halestorm's first Altoona performance, on April 25, 1999 during Dennie Huber's "Crazy Fest" at the A&J IAIA American Legion Post.

 
 
 
 

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