The Heist will rock Watermelon Festival


They look like a band, but they look like a band that would play music much younger than they do. The five sunglass-sporting 20-year-olds that make up The Heist play strictly classic rock, nothing newer, and they play it well. As lead guitarist Brendan McGrath said, “We’re up and coming, early to mid 20-year-olds and loving playing music that’s about 40 years older than us.”

The cover band, which took their name from the fact that they “steal songs,” McGrath said, will be playing Saturday, Aug. 9, at the 47th annual Watermelon Festival in Sunland Park, 8651 Foothill Blvd. The festival, put on by the Sunland-Tujunga Lion’s Club, opens Aug. 8, and runs through the weekend, with The Heist taking the stage at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Bassist Billy Ryder said the band will be “trying to segue a lot of songs, definitely engage the crowd, and try to get them on stage with us.”

But The Heist doesn’t just play here, they were raised here, too. “We all grew up in the foothills,” lead vocalist Chris Schellenbach said, with McGrath adding, “We’re native Sunland people and valley people.” In fact, four of the five went to St. Francis High School in La Cañada. McGrath graduated in 2001, Ryder and older brother of the vocalist and drummer Mark Schellenbach graduated in 2002, and Chris Schellenbach graduated in 2004. During their senior year, Ryder was the St. Francis senior class president and Mark was the ASB president, and according to Ryder, they “both wheeled and dealed like a bunch of Boston politicians to make things happen.”

And the fifth member, keyboardist and percussionist Jessica Paulsson, didn’t go to the all-men’s private school for obvious reasons. Born in Billesholm, Sweden, she joined the band when she met and started dating Mark Schellenbach at Glendale Community College, where she joked about having done better in an English class than the local drummer.

The band specializes in music by The Doors and Led Zeppelin, which is evident by the black Zeppelin shirt Ryder wears, but they also play anything from that era including The Doobie Brothers, The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Eagles, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and The Who. But McGrath said that he doesn’t consider them a cover band. “We’re more of a tribute band for an era,” he said. Ryder added that they try to “preserve the songs [by] first playing them the way we remember hearing them and then we try to play them how the bands played them live.”

They chose to play classic rock songs because of their universal appeal. “Even if they’re not in the back of our recent memory, they’re close to people’s hearts,” Chris Schellenbach said. And Ryder added that these songs are “the most fun to play and the most challenging to play. They have a history and bring back memories. They span all ages, whereas other [contemporary] music only grabs certain cliques.”

The band formed just a year ago, but all the members have a long history with music. Paulsson, who has the least experience, has been playing the keyboards for the last couple years and is “learning every day.” McGrath said that she’s the “missing link of the band.” Ryder echoed his sentiment.“She fills in the extra sound,” he said.

Chris Schellenbach, who also claims to have little musical experience, has been singing in choirs since grade school, and sang in front of Pope John Paul II in the first mass of the new millennium. He described singing in The Heist as “a dynamic experience.” His older brother Mark first started with piano, and picked up the drums at the end of elementary school, taking his first lesson on a drum kit formerly used by the drummer for The Police. Ryder also started on the piano, playing classical piano for 17 years, and has been playing the bass for the last seven. After this lefty taught himself to play right-handed, he “found a love for the bass and low end.” McGrath played the drums, piano, and bass before he “found the passion as a guitar player,” and toured Italy, England, Scotland and Wales with former members of Jethro Tull in the band Wild Turkey.

The Heist will be playing at the Ice Station in Valencia on Aug. 23 at a fundraiser for people with cystic fibrosis.