News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Equalizer: Making Contact Through Music
BY JONAS BEALS
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
When Foreigner played “Cold as Ice” Friday night at Celebrate Virginia Live, Bailey Erickson’s face lit up. He leaned over the subwoofers that lined the front of the stage and let the concussive thump of the speakers shake his sternum and ruffle the makeshift paper-towel plugs stuffed in his ears. He fluttered his hands in a subdued display of air drumming and sang along. He knew every word.
There were thousands of Foreigner fans doing the exact same thing that night, but Bailey was a particularly unique snowflake in the crowd. He is 11, with a love of classic rock you would expect from a person 30 years older. He also has autism.
Children with autism often respond positively to music, and that has certainly been one way Bailey’s parents and teachers have managed to connect with him.
“He has so many hidden talents that we don’t know about,” said Kari George, his teacher at Conway Elementary School. “He has so many doors that could open up to him if we could figure out what the heck is going on. One of those is obviously music.”
But the music that moves Bailey is pretty specific—and it isn’t exactly what his middle school peers are listening to.
George said Bailey sneaks his father’s CDs—Rush, Foreigner, Queen—into school. He can write the complete lyrics to songs from memory. He memorizes liner notes and can name who plays what instrument on any given song.
“It started when he was a real little kid,” said his father, Russ Erickson. “He got ahold of my CD collection and started playing them. He kind of did it on his own.”
Bailey became a fan and quickly learned to sing along to the songs.
For three years, Bailey has performed in the Conway Elementary talent show. In April, he put on a long, black wig, acid-washed jeans and sang “Cold as Ice,” complete with the sort of hand gestures you’d expect from a rock and roll frontman.
“I was so awesome, Mom!” he said as he approached his parents after the performance. He was right.
It’s not that Bailey is a stellar singer—this isn’t a story about finding the next American Idol—but he knows the words, he works the crowd and he’s absolutely fearless onstage.
Off stage, Bailey wouldn’t strike anyone as a consummate showman. In fact, he comes off as quiet and reserved. He can speak but rarely does around strangers. He prefers to play games on his mom’s iPhone.
But he has subtle ways to get his point across. He once persuaded his dad to take him to a Rush concert without saying a word.
“I should have thought of it on my own, but I didn’t,” Russ Erickson said. “He found a flier and when we were driving, he threw it into the front seat.”
They went to see Rush at Jiffy Lube Live, and Bailey was right at home, dancing and singing along the whole time. He reprised that performance at the Foreigner show Friday night, lost in his music—the same music that has enthralled millions of rock fans over the years, including his father.
Bailey fit right in with all the Foreigner devotees Friday night, singing along and fist-pumping to those familiar radio hits. But he wasn’t quite like everyone else there. He was happier.
Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036