San Antonio / Austin Chapter Feature Volunteer

Seeing With Your Ears

aftermath AfterMath, the Austin, Texas rock quartet, never fails to light up any stage they play. The group ranges from 14 to 16 in age and puts on a show that rivals even seasoned veteran bands. A myriad of original hits interspersed with a few classic covers show the versatility and creativity of each young artist; and to put it mildly, they look good, too!! Handsome guys (the drummer and lead guitarist), gorgeous young ladies (the singer and bassist), plus incredible music. What more could you ask for? Well, this band goes a little beyond natural talent and good looks. It is also a band that copes with and to a certain extent, thrives on a specific disability of one the band members. You see, lead guitarist Dustin Belanger has a degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. The disease is slowly robbing him of his vision. Though you may not notice this disorder while he is on stage or even in casual conversation, Dustin and the band, contend with it on a daily basis.

Dustin, age 16, was diagnosed with RP a few years back, but had been exhibiting early signs of the disease from a young age. He would trip over obstacles that were clearly visible to others around him, had a difficult time sleeping in his own room and just seemed a bit clumsier at times, than his peers. Little did anyone know that it was because he was having difficulty with his sight. RP, first robs a person of their ability to see in low light or dark situations; and then progressively narrows the visual field to a point of near total blindness. Can you imagine? A young man with RP choosing a profession in music that places him in low light situations all the time? Well he has; and he thrives on his music.

Dustin’s musical ability first showed itself when he picked up his dad’s trumpet at the age of 5 and was able to blow a note. This was followed by his involvement in his middle school band playing that very same instrument. At the age of 10 he got his 1st guitar for Christmas and a few lessons later, was off to the races. The band AfterMath formed in 2004, as the teen band concept was just starting to develop in Austin. Now, a mere 5 years later, they are the talk of the Austin ‘Teen Scene’, and have played venues around town that artists dream their whole life of playing. AfterMath is definitely not your average rock and roll band.

Dustin’s condition presents many daily difficulties; from not being able to find his seat in a movie theater, the embarrassment of not seeing someone’s hand extended in greeting, to needing assistance setting up or breaking down his guitar rig on a low light stage. However, it also blesses him with a keen sense of hearing and tone, and the ability to create music beyond his age. One might think that he would steer clear of the stage just because of the many low light situations that a musician encounters; but his desire to create music and the thrill of performing keep him on top of his game. Dustin’s opinion on the disability is that he can do anything that a normal sighted person can do. He may just need to take a little more care and time in doing it. RP certainly hasn’t slowed down his guitar playing. He also hopes that he serves as a roll model for others with vision problems, as there are many out there, and he believes they need a champion.

Knowing a little about Dustin and the things he has to contend with on a daily basis, helps shed some light on AfterMath as a band. You see Dustin depends on the entire band for support and each member selflessly contributes. If you ever have the opportunity to watch the band interact or perform on stage, you quickly pick up on that fact. Each member; Justin, Livvy, Rachel and Dustin genuinely care for one another. Their music and the fun they have playing it, is an expression of that care. Dustin will tell you that this devotion and dedication is what motivates him to do the things he does. He knows that he is supported by his band mates in those moments when he has to ‘see with his ears’.