Student band lures People magazine
By CHRIS GULLICK - Staff Writer
Article Launched:10/28/2006 12:00:00 AM PDT

Rock music thrummed over the heads of a few hundred students at Chico Junior High School at lunch time Friday, while dozens of students swarmed to the front of the stage — hopping, waving, head-banging and cheering — to the sounds of Jet Fuel Only.

The four performers — Chico Junior High students Sawyer Goodson and David Love, Hooker Oak student Emma Blankenship and Citrus student Evan Goodson — played renditions of classic rock songs to students, teachers, parents and family members.

Also among the audience were four people who traveled from Los Angeles to see them, planning to feature the band in People magazine.

Johnny Dodd, a staff reporter from the magazine, said he intends to write a human-interest story about the band's success in using music as therapy for autism.

Jet Fuel Only's success musically has played second fiddle to the success of the band's drummer, Sawyer, who has a type of autism known as Asperger's Syndrome.

Through his music, Sawyer found a socially acceptable way to communicate and connect with his fellow students and with others.

His youngest brother, Cameron, who has another form of autism, has also benefited from the music and the rich social interaction surrounding
having a band in the family.

Dodd, who got the idea for the story after seeing an article in the Jan. 25 edition of the Enterprise-Record, co-authored the book "Mozart and the Whale: An Asperger's Love Story," which was made into a 2005 movie starring Josh Hartnett.

The magazine also sent two freelance photographers and a wardrobe stylist to cover the event and help with the story.

A complete, professional sound system was set up by Kevin Looker and the Good Sheppard Studio, a nonprofit organization that provides support for young musicians.

Jet Fuel Only got its start more than two years ago, when Sawyer and Evan's father, Dan Goodson, brought home a guitar and encouraged his sons to learn music. He had been reading research about the use of music to promote brain development, and he wondered if it would also help Sawyer learn ways to interact socially.

Sawyer's condition made playing the guitar painful, but when he picked up drumsticks and took just a few lessons, he excelled.

The first time Sawyer and Evan played to an assembly at Jay Partridge School, other students praised them and asked for autographs.

Sawyer, previously isolated socially, had found a way to be cool.

Wardrobe stylist Cliff Hoppus met with the students Friday and advised them on clothing choices.

Emma described the duffel bags of clothing Hoppus brought with him, having been e-mailed the students' sizes a few days before. She said her selections covered two tables and the boys had about half that many.

Emma said she took Hoppus' advice, keeping the leggings and skirt she already wore and adding a long, fitted shirt and red shoes he recommended.

The three boys traded in their black T-shirts, printed with the band's name, for more colorful shirts.

Sawyer wore his trademark sunglasses.

When Cathy Frost, a family friend, introduced the band, she briefly explained autism and Asperger's Syndrome to the crowd and said music can bridge the gaps between people with differences.

Goodson, watching his sons on the stage, compared the confident, smiling Sawyer to the boy he was three years ago, when he would isolate himself from other children on the playground and exhibited many of the bizarre behaviors typical of Asperger children.

"This is therapy," Dan Goodson explained. "This is medicine."

Even though Sawyer is still autistic, he explained, he's discovered that music is a universal language, something that's hard-wired into everyone.

And being able to communicate acceptably has raised his confidence.

"All the therapy in the world won't work until the confidence is up," he said.

Staff writer Chris Gullick can be reached at 896-7760 or