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Northbrook Teen, Cancer Survivor Booked at Lollapalooza

Andrew Christopoulos, a Glenbrook North senior, channels his experiences as a cancer survivor into his music. He'll play Friday and Sunday on the Kidzapalooza stage at the annual, three day music festival in Chicago.

Among the songs Andrew Christopoulos has written over the last few years is a piece about his classmates who passed away this summer.

"I knew both of them personally," Christopoulos, 17, a high school senior said about and . "There’s other things that haunt me at night, music is definitely my go-to coping mechanism."

Christopoulos is scheduled to headline Lollapalooza's Kidzapalooza stage on Friday, Aug. 3 at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Dark and Passionate

He describes his music as dark and passionate, largely because it's inspired by the grief and hardship he's endured over the years.

When Christopoulos was 12, he was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor called Langerhans cell Histiocytosis (LCH). After spending more than a year in treatment, Christopoulos recovered and looks back on the experience positively. 

“I’ve made peace with that, I love it, I’m so happy that it happened," he said. "It made me mature quicker, in certain ways, than I would have normally. And it gave me a different outlook on life, that’s always very good when you’re trying to be creative and unique.”

After his LCH diagnosis, Christopoulos joined One Step at a Time, a camp for kids with cancer. He spent this summer as a counselor-in-training. 

“It was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done," he said. "There’s a lot of people there who will never be normal outside of camp, and it’s two weeks where these kids get to come and everyone’s loved there, everyone’s just a big family. It’s incredible.”

Despite the camp's positive mission, it exposed Christopoulos' to other tragedies he channels through songwriting. 

"I lost a lot of friends in the last two years," Christopoulos said. "When you go to a camp like the one I do, there’s a lot of sick people that you learn to love."

And yet, Christopoulos said a lot of his work is about "finding the light in the darkness."

"It’s a way to vent in a beautiful way that I get to do awesome things with," he said. "I want to make a career out of this.”

Do It or Die Trying

Christopoulos' songwriting habits change on a case-by-case basis. He said the piece he wrote about Garrity and Caraher was finished in a painful, five hour session. Others may take months of work.  

“There are some songs that I got them in my head and then I finished them a week or two later. It really depends what’s driving it,” he said. "None of the songs came from just la de da, they all mean something to me.”

Christopoulos is currently writing an album and recording music in a home studio he built with his father. He also hired a band from Chicago, Jackpot Donnie, to provide backup music during his Lollapalooza gig, but he keeps searching for musicians to form a more permanent group with. Ideally musicians he can tour with. 

He has not made formal post-high school plans and says he might take some time off before college to work on his craft. 

“Music comes first. That’s just how it is for me," he said. "This is one thing that I’m extremely passionate about, I’ve never felt this way about anything in my life. I know what I want to do, I’m going to do it or die trying. Nothing makes me as happy as playing music.”

Christopoulos said he is "pretty good at school," and mostly gets As and Bs. He's also curious about the technical side of making music and wants to experiment with evolving music genres.

“I’m very interested in being a producer one day and also incorporating electronic music but into music that has a band and guitars and good lyrics," he said. "There’s some cool electronic stuff out there but a lot lacks a human side. I think there’s a future if you can mix those two together.”

Electric Guitars, Organs and a Cello

Christopoulos started learning classical piano when he was in second grade, but grew up hearing music at home.

“My dad and my uncle are songwriters and musicians and they’ve been playing at my house since I was born," Christopoulos said. "I really think that’s where I get my ear for songwriting."

Among Christopoulos' musical inspirations are his family, The Beatles, Jack White and Vampire Weekend. 

Christopoulos and Jackpot Donnie have been rehearsing for their weekend performances in a vacant house in unincorporated Northbrook that a family friend is trying to sell. Though he described most of his work as rock and folky, the sound of his music is slated to change a bit this weekend. 

"This show we’re playing is going to rock out. Electric guitars, organs and a cello.”

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Beth Congbalay August 01, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Go Andrew! Enjoy every minute of it.
Pam Fraser August 01, 2012 at 07:50 PM
You are an inspiration as a musician and as a young man. As a songwriter with something to say, I hope for all the very best in your career ahead.
Lori D'Ambrosio August 01, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Congratulations, Andrew. What a great piece about you. Thoroughly enjoyable reading. You are an inspiration. Music is in your bones...
Barbara Demetrius-Lallas August 02, 2012 at 01:29 AM
You rock Andrew! Your talent, compassion and introspective music make our family so proud!!!!
Julie Froehlich August 02, 2012 at 06:01 AM
Wow Andrew, most adults never achieve what you have already done! We all could learn from you: compassion, love & community. Congratulations on your gig at Lollapalooza! You totally deserve it! Rock on!

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