Blink and you might miss Laurel Springs, a tiny Camden County borough of 1,900 people along the White Horse Pike.
But, there’s a band with a big sound based in town, and on Saturday, they’ll be on the biggest stage of their young career.
Kid Felix, a six-piece rock band made up of Camden County natives, will open this year’s MMRBQ at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden. The show is sponsored by Philadelphia radio station 93.3 WMMR-FM.
Although Kid Felix is only celebrating its second anniversary as a band this month, they’ll share the stage Saturday with some rock veterans: hard-rock heavyweights Alice In Chains and Soundgarden, power-pop kings Cheap Trick, as well as Buckcherry and Device.
The house probably won’t be near full when Kid Felix takes the stage around 3:30 p.m. for a 30-minute set, but the opportunity to play a venue most acts can only dream about isn’t lost on the band.
“I think five minutes before” Kid Felix goes onstage, “I’ll be getting the shakes,” said John Ambrutis, 21, the band’s lead guitarist.
The MMRBQ is the next step in the band’s steady progression from their Laurel Spring rehearsal space to major stages. Last year, they played the Bamboozle festival in Asbury Park, as well as on a side stage at a Warped Tour stop in Holmdel. And the band was a regional finalist in the 2012 Hard Rock Rising Global Battle of the Bands.
The band credits Paul Jaxon, who hosts WMMR’s afternoon drive show, for helping them land Saturday's big gig.
'That certain something'
Jaxon chose Kid Felix as the station’s “Local Shots” Artist of the Month in August 2012, and spun songs from the band’s independently released EP, Head Above Water. The band’s single “Class Action Satisfaction” is now in regular rotation on WMMR.
“It’s almost impossible to put into words, I think, when a band has that certain something, that thing,” Jaxon said in an interview Thursday. “You can see it, you can hear it when you listen to the music. Whatever it is, they have it, the kind of band you’d stake your reputation on.
“It’s harder than it’s ever been to break as a band, but I definitely think they have what it takes as long as they keep plugging. To think they’ve developed that much in such a short time, I can’t even imagine the music they’re going to be playing two, three or four years from now.”
It’s easy to pigeonhole a band by playing spot the influence, but Kid Felix’s music comes from a classic tradition of songs born to be played on the radio, the kind that sound good pumping from the speakers while you’re zooming down the Atlantic City Expressway.
With its massive chorus, “Class Action Satisfaction” sounds more than a little like Stone Temple Pilots’ “Interstate Love Song,” and there are traces of the Beatles, Black Sabbath and early Radiohead in Kid Felix's songs.
(To check out the band performing "Class Action Satisfaction," click on the video above.)
Kid Felix’s dreadlocked lead singer, Jake Falana, 24, says the band would never just aim for a quick hit or ape the latest trends when writing songs. With six people in the group, he says, there’s bound to be a wide mix of influences.
Which makes for something old but new, familiar but original.
“If you ask everybody in the band their three favorite bands, they’d all be different,” Falana said during an interview before the band took the stage at an outdoor show in Audubon Park on Wednesday evening, kicking off the borough’s summer-concert season. The 90-minute show acted as a warm-up gig for Kid Felix’s appearance at MMRBQ.
Songwriting for Kid Felix is a collaborative effort, with every band member contributing his own parts, and Falana and keyboardist Ken Baxter, 23, writing most of the lyrics. Guitarist Brett Hagen, 24, bassist Julian Ungerer, 24, and drummer John Szachewicz, 25, round out the band.
When the band members came together in 2011 from other South Jersey groups, they decided at first to call themselves Andre the Giant, in honor of one of professional wrestling’s all-time greats.
But the name didn’t last long.
“We realized if we ever did make it, we’d probably have (a legal) issue with being named Andre the Giant,” Baxter said.
Somewhat randomly, the band changed its name to Kid Felix, not discovering until later that “felix” translates roughly from Latin to “lucky.”
“‘Young luck'—after naming our band, we realized it means something to us,” Baxter said.
It’s going to take a lot more than luck for Kid Felix to break big in today’s fractured music industry.
Over the summer, the band will continue work on its first full-length album, and plans to tour the East Coast, playing whenever and wherever they can.
For now, the band members will keep grinding away at their day jobs while Kid Felix chases the dream of being a full-time rock band able to pay the bills by making music.
That dream can be slippery for many young bands. But Baxter knows he sees it, somewhere out there in the distance, far beyond the pike town where he grew up.
He pointed to the band’s transportation, a Ford Club Wagon XLT the color of a morning sky.
“Even if I have to live out of that van to go play everywhere.”