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Local teen blues group has ‘Exception’-al talent

Patrons at Europa Restaurant and Martinis last Thursday night enjoyed dinner along with a taste of the blues.

Unhandled Exception wowed the crowd playing a mix of blues favorites and covering songs from artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn.

The band chose the name Unhandled Exception because they said their music is an exception to the norm. That is an understatement; the average age of this trio is 14.

Made up of lead guitarist Justin Locascio, keyboard player Cameron Cunningham and bass guitarist Matt Jones, Unhandelled Exception won Farragut Middle School’s talent show earlier this year. Since then, they’ve been slated to play in the school’s performance of “Grease.”

Jan Paolucci was delighted to see the show. She described it as “family entertainment you can enjoy with the kids.”

“What amazes me is that these boys are playing blues. And they appreciate it. You can tell they have it in their hearts and they feel it,” she said.

“You gotta feel it or you can’t play the blues,” Cunningham said.

Locascio said, “You feel blues in your soul. It’s good music to express your feelings.”

The students aren’t set on just one instrument. Cunningham also plays the trumpet, Jones the upright bass and Locascio the violin.

The group may have inherited some of their musical talent.

Locascio’s father works closely with his son and takes him to blues venues, like Bracken’s in Maryville. Justin’s younger brother Lucas plays the drums.

Jones is also influenced by his father, a record producer who has worked with Dolly Parton and on one of McDonald’s restaurant’s recent advertising campaigns.

While Cunningham joked, “My dad has to pull me off the piano,” his father, Les Cunningham, sings and plays rhythm guitar in his own band, the Defunkalators. Cameron’s older brother Colin plays alongside his dad.

Cunningham’s stepsister, 13-year-old Logan Brill, joined the band on stage for a powerful rendition of “Stormy Monday.”

“I like the blues and jazz. My family knew that and knew what kind of voice I have and they’ve supported me,” Brill said.

David Brill, Logan’s father, said, “She’s fantastic. We have no idea where her voice came from. Her talent was apparent at a very young age.”

The boys said they practice at least once a week, often more.

“It’s not like practice. We’re doing it for the fun,” Jones said.

Not yet in high school, the boys are already looking to their futures. Cunningham said he wants to be a musician or a pilot or both. Jones wants to join the U.S. Marine Corps but said he will never stop playing music. Locascio’s not sure exactly what he will be doing but has decided, “It will be something that has to do with music.”

The group said they appreciate businesses that invite them to play.

“I’m glad that they base it on talent and not age,” Cunningham said. “There’s a good atmosphere here. It’s chill and laid back.”

The boys admit that if they were playing rock ’n roll music, they would have a harder time finding places to play.

Europa’s owner, Hani Rizk, is one of the group’s biggest fans. He said, “I’m happy to support the students and their music.”

Jones said, “We play the blues and not a lot of people are against it.”

Locascio said, “It’s doesn’t matter where we play. We just like to play in front of people.”

John Jansheski, who had not planned to dine at Europa, was pleased that he decided to stop in on a whim. He described the group’s music as “beautiful,” offered up $20 and said, “I want a tip jar.”

The group obliged and even though they were playing for the experience and not for compensation, each member left that evening with a little money in their pockets — a small taste of what could lie ahead for these budding musicians.

Eighth-grade teacher Brenda MacDonald brought her son Devin to the performance. MacDonald has Cunningham and Locascio in class.

“They’re good kids, really talented. They are naturals, very impressive,” she said.

MacDonald said she supports students who are involved in any kind of extracurricular activity.

“The more diverse you are, the more diverse experiences you have,” she said.


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