Labor Day weekend was hardly a vacation for five Iowa Q-C teens.
The rock band Been There Done That performed Friday night at RIBCO in Rock Island for the 97X 40th-anniversary party, after getting the most votes for their song on a new 97X vinyl album. They left at 11 p.m., and hit the road by 4 a.m. Saturday for a five-hour-plus drive to northwest Iowa to compete in the Iowa Rocks Talent show, sponsored by the Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Music Association, in Arnolds Park on Lake Okoboji.
They beat out six other bands with members age 21 and under, and performed the next day before 2,000 people in the Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
For winning, they'll get to record at the state-of-the-art Catamount Studio in Cedar Falls.
“Their talent is phenomenal,” association executive director Cindy Stanbro said Thursday of the girls – Katie Quinn (lead guitar), Izzy McChesney (bass), Morgan Riley (keyboard), Ava Rowland (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and Hazel Khoury (drums).
“They have a fantastic stage presence; it's obvious they've been doing this for a while,” Stanbro said. “They're natural. To see girls 13 and up, with that sort of confidence, talent, and presence. This is just the beginning for them.”
“I call them the modern day Go-Gos; they're killing it,” said Greg Hipskind, Hazel's drum instructor, and director of the QC Rock Academy, where the band formed in 2016. Of last weekend's win, he said: “That was absolutely amazing. We were awestruck. This is what they worked for.”
“I like to see the audience response to them,” said Izzy's mother, Erin McChesney. “People come up and say, 'I can't believe you're 15 years old.' Other artists say, this is just awesome.”
Of six bands studying at the Rock Academy, they are the only all-girl band, “which kind of sets them apart from everyone else,” she said. “They're really good friends.”
Katie, 15, and Morgan, 15, attend Davenport Assumption High School. Hazel, 13, is an eighth grade student at North Scott Junior High. Ava, 14, goes to Bettendorf High School, and Izzy, 15, attends North Scott High School.
They each have taken lessons at QC Rock Academy several years, and were encouraged by their teachers to form a band.
“I wouldn't even play the drums if I didn't go there,” Hazel, who has performed five years, said. “I like when we perform on stage in front of really big crowds. That's when we have the best time.”
Ava was in two previous bands, starting when she was 8, and has been playing guitar for seven years, studying with Billy Gardner, guitarist in the local band Kronos Resistor. Izzy joined last, just five weeks before the Rock Academy Battle of the Bands win in December 2016 at Rascals Moline.
“I've been singing since I could talk,” Ava said. “I like singing on stage, especially for family, 'cause you can see how proud they are. I feel like it's kind of like a wow factor, 'cause you don't see many bands that are all girls. We don't play just pop tunes. We play rock.” They cover everything from Katy Perry from Motley Crue to Journey.
Katie has been playing five years. “Being on stage is a really cool feeling, getting to play, and just being in the band room practicing, having a good time,” she said. “We always joke around, laugh, and have fun. We're all like best friends. We have a cool bond.”
Morgan began studying classical piano when she was 4. “I didn't want to do it anymore, so I knew Katie because we played sports together. We wanted to start a band.”
Izzy has played bass three years, and violin eight years: “I like meeting new people and the fans,” she said. “The people we get to meet, they come up to us after the show.”
With Ava writing the lyrics, they collaborated on “So Done With You,” required for an original to compete in Battle of the Bands. (Available on iTunes, Spotify, with a video at youtube.com/watch?v=0hsH0jq6WoQ.)
Been There Done That first played in public at a 9/11 ceremony in 2016 at Modern Woodmen Park, Davenport. Gardner was playing bass with them at first, and he teaches Katie guitar as well.
“When they did that first battle, we were almost going to pull them out because we didn't think they were ready,” Hipskind said. “That really boosted their self-esteem winning that — we're a legitimate band. We are a real band. They are the youngest of the bands; the drummer, she was 11 when they won.”
They first recorded “So Done With You” in April 2017, at the 1st Church of Groove studio in west Davenport. They submitted it this summer for the 97X 40th-anniversary contest. Thirty area bands submitted songs, and the top 10 vote-getters got to record for 97X for the new LP.
The girls were surprised to win that, and further surprised to be asked to play the RIBCO show. They recorded an acoustic version of the song at the 97X studio, which is on the album. The girls like the acoustic version better. “It's really a not-nice song, but it sounds nice to the ears,” Ava said.