What started as a six-week project to get kids performing together in a band and learning three cover songs turned into a 10-month project that birthed the local music sensation known as Thirty-Three.

What started as a six-week project to get kids performing together in a band and learning three cover songs turned into a 10-month project that birthed the local music sensation known as Thirty-Three.

After playing only spiritual cover songs, the Christian rock band celebrated the release of its first original single, “Jesus Loves You and I Love You Too” last Tuesday.

The group is made up of 11- and 12-year-olds with a passion for music and a strong belief in their faith.

Vocalist Brianna Butler, guitarist Zack McFarland, bassist Cole Haddock and drummer Joel Bogaert were thrilled to release their first original song.

“I’m very excited,” said Bogaert, who has played the drums for three years.

The St. Joe Music and Performance Program, founded in August 2012, was developed by Tom McEniry, operator of St. Joe Music and RSR Recording Studios, and area musician and choir director, Phil Densmore.

“Tom was looking for a vocal and bass coach,” said Densmore. “It was a great opportunity that I’ve really enjoyed.”

Added McEniry, “I’m constantly surprised by their professionalism.”

McEniry thought that the students would come together, have some fun and then go their separate ways, but was proud when the group took shape and started playing shows in Port St. Joe and Panama City.

Prior to Haddock joining the group on bass guitar, Densmore filled in on the instrument.

“It was great when Cole joined on bass. I wasn’t doing a very good 11-year-old impression,” Densmore joked.

Since finalizing the lineup, the group has played numerous churches in the area and said that their favorite gig to-date was at the Port St. Joe Relay for Life event in April.

“I liked it because we played for a good cause,” said McFarland.

As the group continued to get booking requests, McEniry viewed it as the perfect opportunity for the band members to learn the business side of the music world.

Joel’s father, David Bogaert, who has a background in sales, became the group’s agent, setting up the group’s shows and coordinating practices.

David was surprised when his son first mentioned wanting to play the drums.

David took him to RSR Studio for an evaluation. After 10 minutes on the kit, McEniry, who was thoroughly impressed with what he heard, pulled David aside and asked how long his son had been playing.

Drum lessons started immediately.

“I have no idea where he got the talent,” said David. “It’s been fantastic and rewarding watching them grow.”

When it was time for the band to learn some original tunes, local songwriter Doug Roberts was brought it to aid the band. He had written a few Christian-based songs that he taught to the group and was “pleasantly surprised” with how quick they picked up the structures and progressions.

Roberts only had vocals, rhythm guitar and bass written for the band’s first single and encouraged Bogaert to get creative in adding drum parts.

“It was frustrating,” said the drummer. “It took time to find what fit the song.”

While creating music is a challenge for some, it came naturally for others.

McFarland said that his whole family is musical and noted local performer Buddy Hamm as an influence. Haddock knew he wanted to play the bass when his step-father played him the song “Higher Ground” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

When it came time to record the single, the band wasn’t sure what to expect. They were used to playing as a group, but in the studio, songs are constructed differently with each musician recording their instrument separately.

“It was weird,” said McFarland. “We felt really separated.”

The members of Thirty-Three came to enjoy the recording process and are excited to do it again for their second single. Hearing the finished product made all the difference.

“It’s awesome when you first record the song, but then hearing it mixed together makes it, like, whoa!” McFarland said.

The group members said the experience of being in a band together also brought them closer as friends. The members had attended school together but didn’t run in the same social circles.

“It connected us,” said Bogaert.

It turns out that the rock and roll lifestyle isn’t always glamorous. The band admits that they’ve had their share of on-stage problems.

McFarland was once stung in the leg by a wasp mid-song, but kept his cool and turned the flinch into a cool rock pose.

Haddock has had his instrument go out of tune during songs and Bogaert has battled with his drum stool slowly lowering itself throughout the course of one of their sets.

The band’s favorite part of playing live shows? Shattering the crowd’s expectations of what 11 and 12-year-olds can do.

“People don’t think we can actually play,” said McFarland. “At the last church we played, I saw mouths drop.”

Densmore, the vocal and bass coach added, “It’s gratifying to watch them perform and seeing people’s reactions. It makes you feel proud.”

Haddock encouraged everyone in Gulf County to see the band perform live.

“It’ll be a great experience,” he said. “You might feel God touch your heart.”

With the first single in the can, the group is focused on the future.

“I’m anxious to learn new original songs,” said Haddock.

Within five years, McFarland and Haddock would like to see the band get big and play stadiums, while drummer Bogaert is content with where they are right now.

For McEniry and Densmore, they’ll help the group get wherever they can and don’t set lofty expectations for the youngsters.

“If you don’t have fun, you won’t be successful,” said Densmore. “We give them our full support.”

“Music is all teamwork and that’s what we try to instill in them. It’s about getting everyone in sync and into a groove.” said McEniry. “I’ve never had a more rewarding experience.”

Thirty-Threewill play the Panama City Shriner’s Festival on July 20 and the Port St. Joe Scallop Festival on August 4. A concert to celebrate the release of their first single is also in the works.

Kids looking to be involved in the St. Joe Music and Performance program can contact Tom at St. Joe Music for more information. Visit the Thirty-Three band online at www.33band.com.