Screen-Free for Jack White, Owen and Me - by Colin Gawel

It’s hard to believe my son Owen is headed into high school next year. One of the benefits of growing up is expanded independence, which leads to expanded video game and screen time. In an effort to slow the world-wide dominance of the crack pipe known as Fort Night, I started a facebook page called Summer Screen Free 12 to 3. (Click here for link to  page). The idea is as simple as it sounds: Try to get kids off screens daily from noon until 3 p.m. If everybody is offline, nobody is missing out. Or put another way, you can all go through the screen withdrawal shakes together.

The page is set up as a place for parents to share their stories of success and of failure. Also, the model is fluid. In our home, Owen can use his phone during restricted hours to listen to music or a pre-approved podcast. But no social media, games or watching shows. And if he wants to watch a quality movie or documentary, he can do as long as it is on a TV (not an Ipad or phone) and - once again - is pre-approved by the parent. Think Band of Brothers, It Might Get Loud or a Ken Burns documentary.

Part of the deal is that I refrain from screens and social media during the same time, too. Tougher than it seems.

Along the same lines of getting summer off to a good start, I spontaneously sprung for tickets to the Jack White show June 4th at Express Live. Owen used to spend many hours in our basement drumming along to songs on his headphones. He even used to ask me to jam with him. That all sort of stopped about a year back, or to be honest, when rap replaced rock n roll as his favorite genre of music.

Look, I have no problem with kids finding their own thing. I know I did. Certainly my parents weren’t cranking up Number Of The Beast on our family road trips. He can listen to whatever he wants. Still, it made me a little sad to see his musical side fade into the background. The Kid had some talent.  Maybe some loud guitars would flush some of that rap out of his ears and jumpstart his rock n roll heart. I figured $100 was a reasonable price to pay for a shot at inspiration. 

Just by chance our schedule lined up perfectly with Owen and I driving right by the concert returning from summer basketball on a beautiful night. I didn’t ask if he wanted to go, I just pulled the trigger and told him to start doing his Jack White homework because we are going to see him. He asked when, I replied tonight, he said, "what? like right now?" Me - "yup." As a parent I can improve on asking less and doing more. He had no input, we were going to the show, period. 

We missed the first couple tunes but shuffled our way through the sold out crowd to find a decent vantage point on the lawn. Owen had never been to a festival type event and couldn’t believe there were no seats. “You mean I could just get here early and go right down front in the pit?”  “Yup.” “That’s pretty cool”

Jack was Jack. A poor man’s Prince meets a poor man’s Zeppelin and I mean that in the highest regard. The dude is a bad mofo and reigning guitar hero of the world. The show is a little tough to follow as it wanders in and out of heavy guitar riffs with few breaks between jams, but the musicality is undeniable. And seeing Seven Nation Army live should be on every teenage boy’s bucket list.

We both enjoyed the show and when I got to relive it the next day when the setlist was posted on Setlist Fm, I just fell in love with it. ( )

Oh, did I mention…  NO PHONES ALLOWED at JACK WHITE. It was great. Owen and I left ours in the car and stayed in the moment. It was great to see a show without everybody holding up their phones taping it. (Which never made sense to me since everything is on youtube anyway. but I digress..) Owen liked the no phone policy too.  See, this screen-free stuff isn’t sooo bad.

Anyway, the next morning I stopped home from the coffee shop around lunchtime to check on O and see how the screen free 12 to 3 was going. I opened up the door to the sound of drums being played in the basement. I closed the door and went back to the coffee shop.

Colin Gawel founded Pencilstorm and plays in the band Watershed and The Bowlers.  He occasionally writes things at Colin’s Coffee in Columbus,Ohio. He wrote this between the hours of 12 and 3 while staying off screens.

Below: Soon to be high school freshman Owen Gawel behind the kit  for the 5th grade Wickliffe Elementary talent show.