A school poetry project turned into a hit for Traffic Jam Marmalade, last year’s Battle of the Bands winner out of West Springfield High School, which recently packed the house at Caribou Coffee for the second time.
Lead singer Nick Melas had an English project reciting a poem, which turned out to be a song called "Long Leg Lou, Short Leg Sue."
"He ended up performing it as a song in front of the class," said Nick Jarosz on Latin percussion.
"We wrote the music, but the lyrics were based on a poem by Shel Silverstein," said Jared Bookbinder on piano and guitar.
It was standing room only on Friday evening, Feb. 27, at Caribou Coffee in Burke, as the band hammered out a list of originals. In addition to Melas on vocals, Jarosz and Bookbinder, the group has Ben Sojka on bass and Mayank Tandon on the saxophone. The musicians are all current West Springfield High School juniors, except Sojka, who is a senior. When Mayank stepped up for a sax solo, the crowd was appreciative. The sax added a shade of New Orleans jazz to an already tight acoustic sound.
"It's different than a normal high-school band," said Amy LaCrosse, fellow West Springfield student.
Laura Wilde, a West Springfield junior, just moved back from Germany. She felt the scene in the coffee house with the band had a European flair.
"It's a little déjà vu-ish," she said but was appreciative the music venue was there to give the teens a chance to play and their fans a chance to gather.
"There's really not a whole lot to do," Wilde said. "It's better than in somebody's basement," Wilde said.
IT WAS HARD to describe Traffic Jam Marmalade's sound, though, said Bookbinder. Band members knew it wasn't heavy metal, Christian rock, funk or punk, like some of the other groups they went up against in the Battle of the Bands last year.
"We've always been big Dave Matthew fans," Melas said. "Beatles tunes are good."
One Beatles tune in their set was "In My Life," but Melas is toying with "I Am the Walrus," as well. The band also played Dave Matthews' "Jimmy Thing" and "No. 41," during the 15-song set that night.
At one of the school talent shows, a fan was so appreciative it got the group kicked out of the competition. They weren't too upset about it, though.
"We got disqualified from the latest talent show for a guy dancing on the stage," said Jarosz.
Jackie Bookbinder came in to see her son, Jared, who is also a member of the West Springfield Madrigals vocal ensemble. Her daughter was in the Madrigals, too, and went on to be the choral director at Langston Hughes Middle School in Reston
"This is what his passion is," Jackie Bookbinder said. "Music you can do your whole life."
Jimmy "Jam" Wilson has played at Caribou about 30 times since it opened and came in to see the Jam perform. Wilson, a Burke resident, had noticed one of the Jam's musicians was in the audience when Wilson played.
"He's come out to support me, and I thought I'd come out to support him," Wilson said.
Originally, the group had a full drum set, but manager Mike Keating suggested the bongos instead.
Traffic Jam Marmalade plays wherever it can, but being in high school and under 21 does narrow the players’ choices. They are trying to get on the schedule at Jammin' Java in Vienna, said Gross.