This Band Plays Live Music, Online, From A Secret Location In The Northeast Kingdom

Jun 18, 2020

The Kingdom All Stars is a free, volunteer-run band founded in 2012, featuring musicians in grades 5-12 in the Northeast Kingdom. Like musicians everywhere, they’ve been looking for ways to perform in a pandemic, and next month, they will premiere their new YouTube concert series. Erica Heilman paid them a visit.

Editor’s note: We highly recommend listening to this story. All the songs you hear were written by band members.  

I don’t know where the band practice for the Kingdom All Stars was, because I was driven there blindfolded. Because it’s secret. The Kingdom All Stars are currently reinventing themselves as a YouTube band in the time of the pandemic, where they’ll do live online performances from an undisclosed location, deep in the heart of the Northeast Kingdom. 

They’re a group of wicked talented kids who are songwriters and drummers and singers and bass clarinet players and electric violin players and guitar players, and a lot of times, they’re all of those things. They’re really good, and they are really uncool in the very coolest way, by which I mean they’re really nice to each other and they’re not afraid to show it.  

I hung out and listened to them play, and I talked with a few of them about school, about graduating in a pandemic, about being in a band where you get to be exactly yourself. 

"I feel like it gives me a way to not be as introverted. It gives me a way to express all the feelings I have that normally I don't show while I'm around other people." — Zane Mawhinney

This is Zane Mawhinney.

Zane: "I’m normally pretty quiet and reserved."

Me: "So how does music… what does this do to you?"

Zane: "I feel like it gives me a way to not be as introverted. It gives me a way to express all the feelings I have that normally I don’t show while I’m around other people." 

Me: "And how is that? How would you describe that person?"

Zane: "I feel like it’s a lot more fun. More interactive. More outgoing. This gives me an outlet where I’m comfortable with all the people. I still am fairly quiet. But I don’t overthink everything that I’m gonna say. I’m not as conscious about my appearance, and I’m just able to have fun with other people and make music." 

"And it was quite hard initially when I first heard I wasn't going back to school, because these have been my friends for eight years. And I wouldn't get to see them for the last hurrah." — Jazmine Bogey

Here’s Jazmine Bogey. 

Jazmine: "When I’m singing, when I get here essentially, when I begin All Stars practices, I am the shy person who hangs out in back. But the second that I start playing my guitar or singing, I start to feel braver.  

"I’m in eighth grade. Well, I’m in ninth grade now. I graduated last night. We graduated in our cars. And it was quite hard initially when I first heard I wasn’t going back to school, because these have been my friends for eight years. And I wouldn’t get to see them for the last hurrah. We got to see each other at the park at the end.

"And I gave a speech and it was very emotional, because it was the first time I saw my class in four months. So. It was really hard to get up there and speak about how much I was going to miss them. At the moment they mean the world to me, because they gave you all the memories you’ve had since you were five, six years old."

"I believe the point of music is to play together." — Todd Wellington, Kingdom All Stars director

This is Kingdom All Stars Director Todd Wellington.  

Todd: "You know, there’s probably 35 million YouTube videos of some kid playing Van Halen in his bedroom on guitar. And everybody goes, 'Oh that’s just amazing!' Well it is, and it’s really interesting for about 35 or 40 seconds. Maybe a minute. I don’t believe that’s what music was created for. I don’t believe music was a 'look how technically awesome I am.'

"I believe the point of music is to play together. That’s why we are set up the way we are. We’re not an individual talent show. There’s no prize. What we’re trying to do is create a community that likes to play together, that creates wonderful stuff. And they all grow. They all grow and become amazing."

This is Siri Jolliffe.  

Siri: "So my song 'Stronger' is about my back surgery. I was a really competitive gymnast, and I fell off of the bars and that broke it. Which is not good. And I broke it in two places. And I couldn’t walk, and I remember having to learn how to walk again, and that was really treacherous. This song is just about me trying to get back to where I was."

More from VPR: We'll Get Through This: One 11-Year-Old's Take On Coronavirus

Me: "Why does this matter?"

Todd: "Why is it important? Why do it? Why do it during the pandemic? Why do this after all of these years?  Because, ultimately, if you start a party, then you’re kind of responsible for that party. And this is a party that never ends. So if we were to ever shut down, I would have to tell Siri and Jazmine and Zane and all these kids, 'OK, we’re done now.'

"And I don’t think I could do that, because they clearly want to be here, right? We don’t take attendance. They don’t have to be here. So if we shut it down, we would be leaving the party that we started. And I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. I mean, these are not my kids, but I feel very, very committed to them, and feel like I have a responsibility to them. That seems to never end. You know what I mean?" 

The Kingdom All Stars will premiere their new YouTube concert series on Wednesday, July 1, at 7 p.m. Further information is available at KingdomAllStars.com.