The guitar starts playing the first notes of "Stairway to Heaven" and the crowd stirs on a recent Saturday at Taste of Lakeview in Chicago.
When the voice begins to sing, those who are still distracted can't help but turning toward the stage. It's not Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, of course, but it's not a man's voice, either. Or a woman's, for that matter.
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LiveWireNikko Viejon, lead vocals
Hometown: North Aurora
School: Goodwin Elementary
Who inspires you? Bruno Mars
What's on your iPod? I listen to different music.
What book are you reading? "Captain Underpants" by Dav Pilkey
The three words that best describe you? Fun. Talented. Athletic.
Alexandra Cappelli, bass
School: Geneva Middle School South
Who inspires you? Flea, bass player from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
What's on your iPod? Macklemore.
What book are you reading? The second "Harry Potter" book, again.
The three words that best describe you? Stubborn. Thoughtful. Smart.
Danny Cappelli, guitar
School: Western Avenue Elementary School
Who inspires you? Slash, former guitarist for Guns N' Roses. What's on your iPod? I like metal, like Attack Attack! and Memphis May Fire
What book are you reading? "The Strange Case of Origami Yoda" by Tom Angleberger
The three words that best describe you? Musical. Sensitive. Unique.
Cohen Bessler, drums
Hometown: St. Charles
School: Montessori Academy of Batavia
Who inspires you? David Grohl, of the Foo Fighters
What's on your iPod? My favorite song right now is "Can't Hold Us" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
What book are you reading? Nothing now. In summer I don't have to think, so I don't.
The three words that best describe you? Short attention span. Crazy. Athletic.
It's the sweet, young but confident voice of 8-year-old Nikko Viejon of North Aurora, lead singer of the band LiveWire, accompanied on the guitar by Danny Cappelli, also 8, of Geneva. Soon they're joined by bandmates Alexandra "Alex" Cappelli, Danny's sister, on the bass, and Cohen Bessler, 10, of St. Charles, on the drums.
Before you know it, the crowd has doubled in size and people are recording the show on their cellphones.
The kids, who've been playing together for about a year and a half, say they just love, love, love being onstage.
"When you hear that roar of the crowd, it's like 'wow,'" Cohen said.
"You get to play and hang out with your friends, and that's cool," Alex said.
LiveWire already has performed at several well-known venues and festivals, including Hard Rock Cafes in Chicago and Memphis, The National Underground in Nashville, and the "NeXt by NE" portion of the North by Northeast music festival in Toronto.
They perform a repertoire by a variety of rock and pop artists, including Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Adele, Jimi Hendrix, Blondie, The White Stripes, Elvis Presley, and more. They have written two original songs, both in the rock and pop vein.
"From the first few bars of 'Stairway to Heaven', the first song in their set, I could tell this band was going to be something else," said Sergio Elmir, assistant artistic associate for music, community and educational programs at Harbourfront Centre, which hosted North by Northeast. "They ripped through a powerhouse playlist of classic and contemporary rock songs that left us all blown away."
The crowd was enthusiastic, even enthralled with their performance, he said.
"The band, aside from being unbearably adorable, are very talented," Elmir added. "They take the idea of being a 'kids band' up a notch with their immense talent and impressive stage presence. If they keep up the hard work and with a bit of luck who knows what these kids can accomplish."
LiveWire's performance during spring break at Hard Rock Cafe Memphis was great entertainment, said Holly Smith, the venue's sales and marketing manager.
"The crowd was excited about watching such awesome young talent onstage," she said. "I love working with bands that are so excited about the music industry. They absolutely have a bright future ahead of them."
The kids clicked from the moment they first played together, said band director Ken Mandat.
All were taking individual lessons at Hix Brothers Music in Batavia when Mandat put them together as a band for the music school's "Rock Around an Hour and a Half" class. Kids are paired based on their age and skill level, and learn how to play and work together.
"I just had a feeling that chemistry was going to be good with those four children. It took off right from the start," said Mandat, who's taught music for about 30 years.
"In their age group, they're definitely the best kids I've ever had," he added. "It's not just natural talent but the ability to focus enough to retain what they're being taught. It's difficult when you're eight or nine, you don't see that very often."
The kids' parents have all become good friends, and share a desire not to overwhelm the children, said Cohen's dad, Larry Bessler.
"We're trying to make sure it stays fun and not a job that they feel they're being pushed into. At the same time, we feel like we're opening their eyes to the music and the power they have," he said.
Nikko's mom, Jenie Viejon, agreed.
"If they have a performance where we can see that there's a little step back, or one messes up with lyrics or forgets a line, we don't say, 'You did so bad,' or 'Why did you do that?'" she said. "We brush it off and move on. We don't dwell on the negativity."
The band has grown tremendously since their first performance in February 2012 at the Yorkville Moose Lodge, their parents said.
"They talk much better and communicate onstage. Before each was in their own silo," Bessler said.
Danny and Alex grew up in a musical home, and both started playing instruments early on, said their mother, Lill Cappelli.
"It all feels very organic. The level of enjoyment is still there, and I think they have even more fun now that they're even closer friends."
The kids say they all get along very well, except for the times when the siblings start arguing. "It's so annoying when they fight," Cohen said.
Nikko said he's usually nervous before going onstage, though he doesn't look it. "It feels scary when you mess up," he said.
Danny said he's especially proud that LiveWire donates its proceeds -- some $2,000 to date, including sales of T-shirts and hats -- to charities like Lazarus House in St. Charles.
"When you're doing something that you love and you're helping someone, that's really nice," he said.
The kids said their favorite performance so far was at last month's Midsommar Fest in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood, because it was packed with hundreds of people. They also loved meeting basketball superstar Dwyane Wade when they were invited to participate in "D. Wade's Chicago Has Talent" last summer at the Chicago Theatre.
Not all want to be musicians when they grow up, though.
Alex wants to be an gynecologist. "When my mom was pregnant with my brother, we'd go (to the gynecologist) and I thought it was so cool. I love babies," she said.
Nikko loves to draw and carries his sketchbook everywhere. "Art and music are about the same for me," he said.
Cohen is interested in a lot of things. "I want to keep doing the band, but I could be an architect, artist or movie director," he said.
Danny is the only one who's sure music is his future. "I really like it," he said.
As for whether LiveWire will be around for the long haul, it's too early too tell, Mandat said. For one, 8-year-old prodigies attract more attention than teen musicians, he said.
Larry Bessler agreed. "It will be interesting when they start getting into their tweens how things change," he said.
But the main ingredients for success -- having talent, being well-rounded and having supportive parents -- are all there, Mandat said. "I believe the sky's the limit," he said.
LiveWire is scheduled to perform either Aug. 11 or 12 at Veggie Fest in Naperville; Aug. 15 at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield; and Aug. 25 at Durty Nellie's in Palatine. Their Facebook page is facebook.com/rocklivewire.
• Elena Ferrarin wrote today's column. She and Kimberly Pohl always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to email@example.com or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.