When a group of parents in the Northeast Kingdom perceived a lack of commitment to musical education in their public school, they decided to do something about it. So they started a band.
Five years later, the Kingdom All Stars are still providing opportunities for young musicians.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, in the unfinished basement of a ranch-style home in Lyndon, a group of student musicians are just getting warmed up.
The first piece they tackle is an instrumental original called "Boneyard." It’s one of their standard performance pieces. And they perform quite a bit.
The Kingdom All Stars are a constantly changing group of middle and high school students who have one thing in common, according to de facto band leader Todd Wellington.
"They’re all the finest musical talent in each of their schools," he says. "They’re all the kids who take all the solos, the kids who love music more than anything … This is a real important thing to them, and it has to be because we operate like a real band."
Wellington says the main reason he's in charge is because they’re practicing in his basement. He's also one of the original group of parents that started the Kingdom All Stars, in response to a scheduling change at his son’s school.
"The school system decided, let’s have advanced algebra at the same time the Lyndon Town School band rehearses," he explains. "... And I thought, that’s insane. Why would you do that? I know math is important, but most of these kids are advanced math students."
So the parents decided to help the kids start their own band, outside of school.
"And that’s how it started," says Wellington. "We could see where the world was going. Music was important to the families. We wanted it to be important to the kids. And we figured … they’re not going to change the way they teach advanced math at the Lyndon Town School. We’ve just got to do it ourselves."
And so the families started the Kingdom All Stars. And, five years later, a mostly different group of parents continue to run the band as a nonprofit.
Jack Luna is one of the original members of the band. He’s a sophomore at St. Johnsbury Academy. He plays piano, drums and bass, and is the go-to tech guy in the band. As an experienced member, it’s also his job to mentor the younger musicians because there are no instructors here – only young talent.
He says playing with the All Stars is a whole different world from your average school band.
"Sometimes when you deal with school bands and stuff, the people are there just because the teacher says, ‘Hey, go do an extra-curricular,’ or something like that," says Luna. "But everyone who is here is here because they really, really love doing it. So it’s a very passionate environment to work in."
Jordan Barbour is a freshman from Barnet. She also likes the company, and producing a quality show.
"I like that I get to hang out with other kids who are as interested in music as I am," says Barbour. "And we just get to create a good experience for everyone."
Wellington says providing a good musical experience for local audiences is also part of the Kingdom All Stars’ mission.
"We actually have a dual mission," Wellington explains. "One is to have those kids play together. We’re here to serve those kids. The other mission is to provide live music in the community. It’s in our charter … It’s synergy between the need to have a place for these kids and the community’s need for live music – especially in an era, place and a town like this. You know, there’s just not that many people here."
Leo Parlo is an eighth grade home schooler from Walden, and a gifted drummer. This is his first year in the band, and he seems to have found his tribe.
"With a lot of other performances, I’ve always been very nervous," he admits. "But for some reason, with the All Stars, I’m always a little bit less nervous. Probably just because all the other musicians are so talented that you can rely on them. If you mess up, they’ll keep the song going."
That sort of give-and-take between musicians is what the All Stars are all about. Wellington likens it to a tradition that served Vermont’s small towns well for years.
"We’ve become the one-room schoolhouse," he says. "We have kids that are in fifth and sixth grade playing with kids who are in high school. And they’re close enough in ability that it all works."
If you’d like to catch the Kingdom All Stars in action, the group is giving two daytime concerts at Fuller Hall in St. Johnsbury on on Feb. 22, at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. And that evening, at 7:30, they’re performing at the Statehouse in Montpelier.