In just a handful of years, Brooke Hatala can say she's played for thousands - if you count the audiences at the more than 100 community events, open mic nights, weddings and banquets where she's performed. She's becoming a favorite and regular performer at local festivals and on Triangle stages, singing a mix of songs with her guitar.
And the talented young singer-songwriter has her sights on even bigger crowds, drawing inspiration from a pop star who's been a regular on the charts since she was a teen. She's getting closer to that dream. In September, she'll be playing on the VIP stage at Walnut Creek Amphitheater before the Kelly Clarkson concert.
"I look up to Taylor Swift and I hope my music can take me in that same path of performing in front of many people and touching people's lives," Brooke tells me.
Brooke, who turns 14 next month and is a rising freshman at Cardinal Gibbons High School, will perform at Go Ask Mom's event at North Hill's Midtown Park on Tuesday. The event, from 10 a.m. to noon, will feature several performers, along with big trucks for kids to explore, active play and crafts.
I've heard so much about Brooke over the years and was excited to connect with her and her mom Linda Hatala. Linda and her husband also have two boys - Connor, 15, and Luke, 9. The family lives in Cary.
It all started, Linda tells me, with a karaoke machine. Starting at age 6, Brooke would sing into it all of the time. By age 8, she started taking guitar, picking it up quickly even as a lefty playing a right handed guitar.
"Her teacher told us early on she was a natural and she practiced all the time, which made her even better," Linda tells me. "... When she was able to start learning the songs on her own with her guitar, that's when the shows began! Our family had a concert every night in her bedroom!"
Music runs in the family. Linda's husband's father was a musician with his own band. Linda's grandmother was a talented singer and piano player, often serving as lead singer at her church.
Linda and her husband, who both played instruments growing up, believe it's important for kids to take up an instrument. Brooke's older brother Connor plays electric guitar. Her younger brother Luke plays drums. The three often have jam sessions.
"I believe the talent is in the genes and the mix between my husband's family and mine has really helped Brooke. Plus, she gets a lot of support from our family, playing at various family functions like anniversary parties to weddings," Linda tells me.
Two years after starting guitar lessons, Brooke began the circuit of local open mic nights, usually at coffee shops. The experience performing, Linda said, has helped build her confidence and realize how talented she is.
Brooke remembers her first open mic, which was at the Wake Zone in Apex.
"I was nervous and excited at the same time," she tells me.
Mentors also have helped. One, Katie Garfield, who is now in Los Angeles recording her own music, invited Brooke to perform at local events, eventually leading to Brooke's first solo event at Pullen Park when she was only 11. She was hooked.
"She loved it and knew from that point on this was her passion and what she wants to pursue in life," Linda tells me.
Brooke also has taken lessons with singer/songwriter Rissi Palmer, who also is performing at Tuesday's event. Palmer is a long-time recording artist with a major label country album, a children's music CD, which I've written about, and a newly released album (with more grown-up music), among others.
Palmer also runs The Relative Pitch, an open mic program for kids in the Triangle, which Brooke has participated in.
"I would highly recommend any mom out there who has a child interested in singing and performing to seek out the website for The Relative Pitch, get on their email list and Rissi will let you know when the next event is," Linda tells me. "This is a great way for younger artists to get started in a safe and non-threatening environment since it is geared for 18 and under."
These days, Brooke is focusing on performing and her songwriting, a big step toward getting recorded. She is constantly practicing new songs in her room and can play up to three hours worth of music with all of the chords and words memorized.
"Brooke has really evolved into her own 'one girl band' in a sense," Linda tells me. "As a mother, I am amazed at Brooke’s dedication and confidence in her music."
Says Brooke: "What I love about writing and performing is it's my own work. I can express myself and my creativity through music and words."
Keep track of Brooke's performances and burgeoning career on her Facebook page.
Watch her sing "Bless the Broken Road," by Rascal Flatts.
Go Ask Mom features local moms (and sometimes their kids!) every Monday.