Music to Our Ears

Introducing Mercury Avenue

Year after year, the list of talented musicians emerging from the Contemporary Music Center (CMC) continues to grow. This nationally recognized music store in the heart of Haymarket is a hub for those seeking to begin the adventure into learning to play an instrument or using their unique voice to express themselves through song. CMC’s intensive week-long Rock Camp builds confidence, creates once-in-a-lifetime memories, and is known locally as one of the best experiences in a young musician’s early life. Director of Education Menzie Pittman ensures that each student is offered the chance to receive the best musical education possible and encourages children to advance in their musical journey while exploring their own creative process and abilities.

Directly under the store lies one of the best kept secrets around the @4410 performance venue. Fans from the community gather here to enjoy open mic nights featuring musicians from local high schools and performances from Rock Camp participants. Because of this shared experience and like-minded perspectives, kids who participate in Rock Camp often form bands and pursue the opportunity to perform in many local venues around the DMV.

One of these such bands is Mercury Avenue – the three boy and one girl group of Jackson Ledbetter, Vlad Ratiu, Wyatt Kotas, and Sophia Patchan. Named after the street in Haymarket where they practice, Mercury Avenue is emerging into the local music scene by performing at venues in and around our area. Pittman revels in the success of these teens who hold a special place in the hearts of those at CMC who have watched them grow both individually and together.

“Mercury Avenue is the result of what happens when talent, fun, and opportunity collide. Each member brings their unique talents to the band, but the real secret ingredient is the fun they generate. Each has found their special place in the project and really bring their personalities to the table.” Menzie Pittman

Jackson Ledbetter, Drummer

Most Impactful Musical Influences: Rush, Twenty One Pilots, Fall Out Boy
All have greatly impacted my playing style and capabilities, the intricate rhythms of Rush paired with the simplistic yet powerful beats from Twenty One Pilots, all meticulously pieced together by the fast fills of Fall Out Boy.”

At the tender age of 8, Jackson began drum lessons much to the chagrin of his parents who really wanted him to pursue guitar. After much convincing, Jackson found his way to CMC where he took lessons before joining the Rock Camp program. The opportunity to join with other talented musicians his age is something he remains thankful for. Humble and grateful, Jackson converses about music with ease, while his shoulder length hair peeks out from behind a backwards hat. It’s a style that fits his personality perfectly. He wants his fans to appreciate that Mercury Avenue’s sound is “unlike every other teenage rock band out there.” On the days Mercury Avenue is performing, Jackson counts down every second until the performance, when he can put his all into playing music that he’s spent countless hours preparing for.

Pittman points out that, in addition to Jackson’s affinity for drumming, he is also gifted with a socially conscious heart. He led a collection drive for Hungry for Music – a nonprofit whose mission is to provide musical instruments to underserved youth – collecting and donating several hundred instruments to children who wouldn’t have been able to explore their talents otherwise. This year Jackson is thriving as a drum major for the Battlefield Marching Band and enjoying the three or so gigs a month that his dad organizes as the band’s manager.

Whether it’s in @4410 or on the field, the fun starts when Jackson plays drums,” says Pittman.

Vlad Ratiu, Guitarist

Most Impactful Musical Influence: Mark Knopfler, guitarist and vocalist for Dire Straits
Knopfler inspired me to go against the common trend of fast-playing guitarists and focus more on more melodically diversifying my songs using slower notes and no guitar picks.”

Vlad remembers feeling inspired by music around the age of 6. Although his interest was originally in the guitar, the realization that his tiny arms at that age couldn’t fit around the instrument resulted in his parents enrolling him in piano lessons. But two years later, with a yearning still there, his parents bought him his first electric guitar. Through the years, with lessons in Ireland and the United States, and the exposure to Knopfler’s guitar techniques, Vlad perfected his fingerpicking instead of using a pic, and learned to focus on the slower notes and melodies of songs. Today, Vlad’s style is all his own. With his trademark long curls and steely expressions, he adds strength and focus to the group.

“He’s the uniting force,” says Pittman. “Vlad is strong and steady and stabilizing to those in his company.”

Wyatt Kotas, Guitarist

Most Impactful Musical Influence: John Frusciante, guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers
It’s really the way he plays his music. John just lets go of thoughts of what others think of him, how he sounds, or really just any self-conscious thoughts and lets the music work through him. He inspires me to be selfless.”

With a “phenomenal singer” mom and a guitar-playing dad, Wyatt grew up surrounded by music and is primarily self-taught. Whether it was accompanying his mom to karaoke nights or visiting music stores for new gear with his dad, Wyatt was inspired at a young age to pursue his passion for music. Although he was at first intimidated to live up to his parents’ talents, the 7-year resident of Haymarket says that discovering Contemporary Music Center was life-changing. CMC and Menzie Pittman have played a “crucial role” in his life, his learning and appreciation for music, and the reason he began to take it seriously. CMC also exposed him to new music, new people, and a new lifestyle, while introducing him to the Virginia music scene and the other members of Mercury Avenue.

“Whether he is playing bass or guitar, Wyatt’s performance is always electrifying. His performances inspire young musicians to strive and give their very best because when they watch Wyatt play they can see that when someone puts their heart into what they do, they become something to celebrate,” says Pittman.

Sophia Patchan, Guitar and Vocals

Most Impactful Musical Influences: Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Led Zeppelin, The Doors
“My favorite thing about performing with the band is singing and playing and making a sound you can’t just make by yourself. Performing with the band helps me work better with people in general by understanding that everyone’s part is important no matter how big or small it may seem.”

Sophia’s musical journey began in 4th grade when she was gifted an acoustic guitar by her parents. She began learning to play this first instrument through music lessons at CMC with Mike Harrington, but eventually also acquired an electric guitar and then a bass. But another instrument Sophia wanted to improve on was her voice. Lessons with Anne Albright, also at CMC, compelled her to begin singing on stage.

While soft spoken and quiet in person, the only girl in Mercury Avenue is a force on stage, winning the hearts of all those who see her perform.

Pittman says, “Whether Sophia is singing, playing guitar, or playing bass, she is a rock of strength to those around her.”

While Mercury Avenue plans to continue playing local venues, the years to come will find them in other places. Each one plans to pursue college and different career paths, but they all hope to play together when the opportunities arise during these separate journeys.

For now, follow this talented group on Facebook @MercuryAvenueBand to see where they’ll performing throughout the winter and spring or email to contact them.


Christine Craddock
About Christine Craddock 78 Articles
Christine Craddock is a writer, editor, photographer, wife, and mother of two adorable children. She is a faithful contributing writer for Haymarket Lifestyle magazine and has resided in Haymarket since 2006.

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