A group of Fredericksburg High School jazz musicians have formed Fritztown Vibe to earn college money this summer. Clockwise from upper left: Zavior Vaquero, Jacob Lees, Sergio Martinez, Ander Castaneda, Will Cooke. Photo by Phil Houseal

June 12, 2019–It was a gazillion years ago, but I was able to accomplish a rare financial feat–to finish college with more money than I started with.

How? First, I was an extreme cheapskate. I lived in a one-room apartment with no appliances. I used the space between my window and screen as a refrigerator or freezer, depending on the Iowa weather that day. I cooked using a popcorn popper to heat soup and hot dogs and beans. I rode a bike to class. Someone gave me the bike.

I think it was stolen.

But my secret financial strategy was playing drums in a country band on weekends. We usually squeezed in three local gigs at places with names like The Town Tavern and the Lone Tree Tap, and the cash money and tips more than covered my weekly expenses. (I say secret because I did not dare tell my hip Hawkeye classmates that I played country music.)

That experience is one reason I am excited to write about some young local musicians who are playing summer gigs to earn spending money before they set off for college.

The Fritztown Vibe is Fredericksburg’s freshest music act. They are actually an enthusiastic group of Fredericksburg High School students who decided to spend their summer playing music at the many local venues.

The group gives credit for the idea to Alexander (Ander) Castaneda. The 2019 FHS graduate is heading to the University of Texas in the fall to study computer and electrical engineering. But he wanted to sock away some money without actually having to work. So Castaneda, who played trombone in the FHS Jazz Band, recruited some of his bandmates to perform some gigs before leaving town.

“Yeah, I didn’t want to get an actual job,” Castaneda said with a grin. “Playing music doesn’t feel like a job.”

His friends were intrigued enough to get on board. While the lineup will fluctuate, committed members include:

  • Jacob Lees, drums, who wants to move into audio engineering.
  • Will Cooke, bass guitar, who is thinking of going into music education.
  • Zavior Vaquero, tenor sax, wants to be a stockbroker. (“I like playing, but I don’t want to be a musician.”)
  • Sergio Martinez, keyboard, wants to continue in music performance. (“I’m doing it for fun. I like to play music, and doing anything that involves music.”)
  • Daven Ballejo will also handle drumming duties, and former FHS student Loic Rhyne will sit in on guitar.

Although he deflects credit, Graham Pearson is quietly playing the role of “impresario” behind the scenes. Pearson, an accomplished musician along with being a chemical engineer and former city council member, got involved while visiting with Castaneda at a graduation party.

“Ander said he wanted to play some gigs over the summer as a way to earn money,” Pearson said. “So I decided to help give them a boost. I encouraged him to pull in some of the other jazz band musicians.”

Pearson used his music connections to open the door at several Fredericksburg venues, introducing the band to club owners and bookers. Beyond that, he expects the students to take over.

“I want them to start to learn about and understand the business side of playing music,” Pearson said. “I will introduce them, but they will handle the negotiations and arrangements from that point on.”

Other than Castaneda, the rest of the core lineup will return for their senior year at FHS. Pearson hopes the group can stay together over the school year and beyond, rotating in members as graduates move on and underclassmen move up.

The band is currently putting together charts and what we used to call “fake books” to build a repertoire of standards. They believe there is enough interest among Fredericksburg music lovers to support a group that plays jazz and blues–something different from the usual music fare offered here.

“Come out if you want to hear young musicians play from the heart,” Castaneda said. “We are playing what we know, and trying to play what we know best. We’ll keep getting better every day.”

Pearson has a bit of advice to add to that, reminding them that playing “professionally” is about more than the music.

“Just remember,” he told them, “at a live gig you no longer are just a musician; you are an entertainer.”

After visiting with these guys, I don’t think that will be an issue.


Fritztown Vibe will perform this summer on the following dates:
Wednesday, June 19, El Milagro, 7-9pm
Wednesday, June 26, Western Edge Cellars, 7-10pm
Wednesday, July 24, El Milagro, 7-9pm
Thursday, Aug 8, Hondo’s, 7-10pm
Schedule subject to change. Anyone wanting more information or to book the band can contact Ander Castaneda at 830-456-3744 or Graham Pearson at 830-997-2271.