PEOPLE — At eight years old, most children are blissfully enjoying their youth through games, elementary school and time spent with their families. Some are involved in after-school sports while others enjoy such organizations as Cub Scouts or dance.
Marel Hidalgo, at the same age, manages to walk the fine line of being a typical eight- year-old, while at the same time being Bradley Beach’s musical prodigy.
Marel’s interests are limited only by the time he can spend on them while his curiosity flourishes with his parents’ support.
Aside from his musical talents, Marel enjoys an ever-expanding library of interests — including his library of books. Some of Marel’s favorite authors are Roald Dahl, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, and Jules Verne.
“He’s waiting for me to let him read the ‘Grapes of Wrath’,” said his father, Mahonrry Hidalgo. “But we are not letting him grab that book just yet.”
Marel sighed upon hearing his request rejected once more.
Soccer and swimming are two of his favorite sports, while his knowledge of cars is impressive for anyone, let alone an 8-year-old musician.
His favorite car is Studebaker. For those that don’t know or can’t remember, Studebaker was an American automotive manufacturer in the early 20th century that ceased operations 50 years ago in 1967.
Marel is also interested in chess, learning other languages [he is currently learning Portuguese], collecting old coins and bills, and politics and history.
Marel has been invited as a panelist to talk about Styrofoam and waste in public schools and currently has a campaign to save the rainforest wherein he dresses up as a red-eyed tree frog and plays his music to bring awareness to the cause.
Tied to his interest in politics is his philanthropic work.
At many of his events and shows, Marel collects donations from audience members to put the proceeds toward a certain cause.
Marel has donated to Bradley Beach Elementary School’s [BBES] Environmental Club, BBES’ trip to Washington, D.C., and the American Heart Association.
The American Heart Association is special for Marel, according to Mr. Hidalgo, because one of his favorite artists, Gary Moore, died of a heart attack.
However, Marel’s biggest interest is in his music.
Marel plays six different instruments fluently: guitar, banjo, bass, electric sitar, keyboard, and drums. He also sings vocals in the event the singer can’t go on stage because, as he said, “The show must go on.”
“He’s like a little Prince,” Mr. Hidalgo said. “He just plays everything.”
Marel first began playing when he was 4-and-a-half years old after seeing a cartoon character named Doki on the Discovery Channel play guitar.
“I wanted to play like him,” he explained.
However, Marel ran into a bit of trouble at school when he couldn’t stay focused during music class.
“I was in pre-k and kids would be singing the same song and clapping and I wouldn’t want to do that. And it was only like three notes but they played it differently,” said Marel.
“We received a phone call from the school the second week of pre-k saying he was acting up because he didn’t want to sing, clap or dance,” said Mr. Hidalgo. “So we went over there and we asked what type of music the kids sing. And they told us ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’ ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ …”
To which Marel said that “the only good version is the Stevie Ray Vaughan one.”
Marel’s parents went to the school asking if the school could play Pink Floyd instead, “or something like that because he really likes Pink Floyd,” Mr. Hidalgo said. The first album Marel ever listened to whole was “Dark Side of the Moon.”
So his parents took him to music school to see if Marel could develop a taste for kids’ music.
“They said that at that age kids don’t have the motor skills to play guitar. But they said they would give it a try. And the first day he was there, Marel told them he wanted to play ‘Aqualung’,” Mr. Hidalgo laughed.
“So we went back to the school and told them we have good news and bad news. The good news is the kid loves music. We just realized. The bad news is that he still doesn’t like kids’ music. And that was still, during pre-k and kindergarten.
“The funny thing is that he never stuck with one instrument even though electric guitar is his main instrument,” said Mr. Hidalgo. “He just decided to go and play everything.”
Since then, four years and three endorsements later, his band, Marel Hidalgo and the Stone Feathers, has performed in numerous events. He’s played at BBES concerts, Bradley Beach’s Memorial Day Festival, the Bradley Beach Public Library rededication earlier this year, and even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which he will be returning to later this year to play once more.
Marel has seen three major endorsements come his way in the last four years.
DR Strings provides the strings for all of Marel’s instruments, while Hartke Systems provides acoustic and bass amps, as well as endorsing Marel as their youngest artist, a designation formalized just last week.
Marel also recently picked up a new endorsement — Clayton USA — which will be creating a custom guitar pick for Marel.
But for Marel, the endorsements are only part of the story. For him, the music comes from within.
“When I’m playing the music, it feels like it’s coming from me and people enjoy it,” he said. “People enjoy it.”
Still, it is his family that is Marel’s primary endorser.
“For my wife and I, music is not just a good excuse to do stuff with him, to go to a new place, meet new people, travel,” said Mr. Hidalgo. “It’s seeing him do something he loves. He’s very young. We don’t know what he wants to do when he grows up. Right now he says musician. But when I was eight, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. But he keeps showing us that this is the path that he wants to take.
“But if he decides tomorrow or in a month or in a year that he doesn’t want to do this anymore, it’s been a really beautiful journey riding with him until now. So it’s OK. If he wants to be a doctor or engineer or baker tomorrow, well we’re going to support him the same way we are supporting him with music.”
Marel has several upcoming events he is looking forward to. Soonest is the Bradley Beach Memorial Day Festival which will take place this weekend, May 27 to 29, where Marel and The Stone Feathers will be headlining the event on Saturday.
The next day, May 28, Marel will be at Downtown after the Sundown in South Orange from 7:30 to 10 p.m.
On June 17, Marel will be at the EO MAC Fest 2017 in East Orange and on June 19, he will be back at his first venue, 10th Ave. Burrito in Belmar, from 5 to 7 p.m.
Finally, on June 29 and Aug. 5, Marel will be traveling out to Cleveland, Ohio, to perform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a tribute to Santana during the city’s Hispanic Heritage Parade and Festival.