Onstage, Darius Wilkins is magnetic, practically shouting the lyrics to one of his most popular songs while smacking his guitar strings with a force that borders on abuse.
"I am a dragon and I don't care. I just want to see people scared!" he bellows. The sell-out crowd is enraptured, screaming and clapping along, dancing and raising their arms.
Then the veteran performer snarls something into the microphone that makes his audience howl even louder: "I think we're really burning Voldemort's butt right now."
That's Voldemort, as in the bad guy in the Harry Potter series, the villain so terrible he's often referred to as "He Who Must Not Be Named."
Darius is a Wizard Rocker. He's 8 years old and lives in Hellertown, Pa. His brother Holden - who frequently provides backing vocals for Darius' band, the Hungarian Horntails - is 5. A 9-year-old schoolmate, Rayn Feeny, has recently joined the group.
Theirs is music based on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, literature theoretically aimed at children but with an appeal that has hooked readers of all ages. In the last two years, hundreds of Wizard Rock bands have popped up around the country and the world, sharing their music via the Internet and performing in concert.
This month marks the release of both the fifth Harry Potter movie - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - and the final book - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - so it's an especially busy time for Wizard Rockers and their fans. The University of Pennsylvania hosted Enlightening 2007, a family-oriented Potter camp that wraps up four days of events today.
Later this week, the Hungarian Horntails (named after a variety of dragon) will appear at the Starlight Ballroom with Harry and the Potters. The Marauders, based in Absecon, N.J., will be playing Mount Airy's Big Blue Marble Friday. And numerous book release parties featuring Wizard Rock music are slated for next weekend.
Fans of The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek and the like have long shown their loyalties by dressing as characters, attending conventions, and coveting offbeat collectibles. But Harry Potter may be the first to spawn an entire music genre. Other bands may have one or two songs paying homage to Gandalf or Spock, but Wizard Rock bands are almost entirely Potter-centric.
"For many kids, this is what their generation identifies with. It's a major part of their pop-culture landscape. They've grown up with the books and think of Harry almost as a classmate rather than a fictional character," said Paul DeGeorge, 28, of Harry and the Potters. "When they're getting into music, Harry Potter is such a huge part of their lives that that's where they turn when they're starting to make art."
WizRock bands generally take their names from Potter characters, human and non-human, and often write music based on their character's fictional adventures or from their character's point of view. So Draco and the Malfoys promote the power of the House of Slytherin, and the Moaning Myrtles bemoan their namesake character's death by basilisk.
DJ Luna Lovegood - the stage name for Darius' mother, Tina Olson - raps about being an outcast among the popular kids while the Greybacks - led by Darius' father, Ian Wilkins - sing about the evil werewolf who enjoys biting children.
"The idea is that anyone can make music," said Nefret Salzberg, cofounder of the news site wizardrock.org. "You don't have to know an instrument. You don't have to be good. You don't have to be great. You can be any talent level or ability."
Some Muggles - the term for nonmagical folks in the Potter-verse - may not understand the Wizard Rock appeal. Nina Jankowitz, 18, half of the Hillsborough, N.J.-based Myrtles, put it this way when her mother questioned her about the band:
"It's still real music. It's just about wizards," she told her.
The Myrtles' other half, Lauren Fairweather, 19, said her Muggle-born parents didn't fully grasp the music's magic, either. They think her musical habits are "kinda funny, kinda strange, because no one's done anything like this before."
"They'll come to our shows and not expect people to show up," Fairweather said. "But people come from hours away."
The term "Wizard Rock" was coined by Harry and the Potters, the duo many consider the genre's premier act. Back in 2002, brothers Paul and Joe DeGeorge began performing songs written from the boy wizard's point of view, then took their shows on the road. They, in turn, inspired others to form bands.
"Harry and the Potters set the precedent. You could do what they were doing and it didn't matter how you were doing it as long as you did it," said Lizz Clements, 25, whose Web site www.wizrocklopedia.com handed out awards this year in categories such as "Best Music Produced from Beyond the Grave" and "Best Band Fronted by a Magical Creature."
The Boston-based Potters now have an expansive fan base and a summer tour schedule as busy as any other popular band's, with shows almost every day from now until September. The only difference? Most of the venues they rock are libraries - and even when they play nightclubs, all shows are all-ages.
(The Horntails just played a place in New York called the Candy Shop. Darius said he was disappointed when he arrived to find it was not, as he'd imagined, a sweets store, but a bar.)
"We get plenty of parents with their kids. They'll say, 'Your CD is the only CD my kids will listen to,' and they're not old enough to read but they've been read to or seen the movies," Paul DeGeorge said.
As diverse as the fan base are the musical styles, recording capabilities, and levels of talent. Lauren of the Myrtles never played an instrument before she picked up the bass for her band. Kristin Davisson, 16, of the Marauders has played the piano since she was 6, but she taught herself how to play an unused accordion she found in her basement to give her band a unique sound. It has worked, she said, and the band has played a half-dozen shows.
After the second one, she said, she was surprised to find strangers asking her for her autograph or to pose for photos. "Now I push myself to practice and write songs," said Davisson, an 11th grader, whose band includes her father and her friend Meg Petry. "I love just going to the show and seeing the people singing along and being happy."
But one thing that seems common to many Wizard Rock bands is a sense of social consciousness. Harry and the Potters shows have raised tens of thousands of dollars for literacy programs. The band's Web site has a reading list and promises a free Harry toothbrush to any fan who brings a report on one of the books to a show.
"Wizard Rock has grown into a large community of musicians and fans nationwide and the vast majority of us really care about the world around us," said Matt Maggiacomo, 28, of Providence, R.I. He's a member of the Whomping Willows and founder of Cheap Rent, an independent record label that has released a multi-artist Wizard Rock album called Wizards and Muggles Rock for Social Justice.
"As much as we're into having a good time, we also use Wizard Rock as a platform for addressing a variety of social and political issues and encouraging literacy and education to young people."
Another commonality? Family. In the Potter series, that's one thing the orphaned Harry is always seeking. Wizard Rockers have formed a close-knit community that "keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger with more people becoming fans or starting a band," Salzberg said. "We're all really supportive of each other."
The social network MySpace.com is one way they all stay connected. New bands seem to pop up every day, asking to be linked to the more established rockers. There's constant messaging between them. Talk to one Wizard Rock band and hear how wonderful another is. Listen to them reflect on their last shared gig or their excitement over coming ones.
"When you're into something that's weird and other people don't get it, you're weird," Clements said. "But when you're into it with a lot of other people, it's not weird. It's normal."
And, there are actual genetic families, like the DeGeorge brothers, like the Davissons, like Darius', who find themselves drawn even closer by their music. "Me and my dad have always been pretty close. Now we're even closer," Kristin said. "It's cool that we get to hang out and write songs together and it's cool because it's like my dad's my friend."
Darius' mother Tina Olson said she would sometimes pull characters from the book into real life to make a point. "I'll say, 'This is the way Draco Malfoy would have handled not getting bubblegum at the grocery store.' "
Dad Ian Wilkins called his brood a "Wizard Rock Partridge family." The Horntails' tour schedule - as well as the gigs already booked for DJ Luna and the Greybacks - will make for a busy summer. He doesn't mind.
"Why stay home and watch soap operas when you can go to a show and be among friends?" he said.
Darius expects his two youngest siblings to join him and Holden on stage at a Horntails show any day now. Oliver, age 2½, runs on stage and attempts to grab the microphone. Even 6-week-old Violet is getting in on the act.
"She's already starting to scream," Darius said. "That's already like a rock band."
The Wizard Rock community posts concerts and videos on its MySpace pages. Here are a few to check out:
The Moaning Myrtles:
The Hungarian Horntails:
Harry and the Potters: