I’m no stranger to great music festivals, like Voodoo Fest in New Orleans or South by Southwest in Austin, that bring together both up-and-coming and legendary artists. And I’ve been lucky enough to score box seats to mega-star performances by the likes of Lil’ Wayne, Dave Matthews Band, and Coldplay.
But even though I went to more shows than I can count, only once did I have a front row seat to a truly life-changing concert.
No, it wasn’t a performance by Chris Martin, Lil’ Wayne or Dave Matthews. And it wasn’t a music festival, as much as I live for the three-day binges on incredible musical talent and soul swaying tunes.
It was at a mall—the Regency Square Mall in Florence, AL to be exact. And the show was put on by a high school band.
On Saturday, March 17, I drove three hours from Tuscaloosa, where I live, to the mall in Florence to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the deadly tornadoes at a ‘giving thanks’ concert put on by the Phil Campbell High School Band.
A 45-minute drive south of Florence, Phil Campbell is a town of about 1,000 residents. Nearly one year ago, the Phil Campbell community was completely devastated by deadly tornadoes.
April 27, 2011 proved to be a nightmare that has taken a year to overcome. For the Phil Campbell High School band—whose band room was reduced to rubble—that Wednesday last spring marks the day the music died…almost.
We all know what kind of impact music can have on our lives, but few of us can imagine having our passion and hard work literally blown away in a single moment. A demolished band room meant no more uniforms, sheet music, or afterschool activity.
But Bobby Patrick, the Phil Campbell Bobcat Band director, made sure the music never stopped. He was one of the first on the scene to begin working on the cleanup. On that day, as the community gathered to begin the recovery process, a student asked what would happen to the Bobcat Band.
Bobby replied, “Our band is not made of drums and horns. Our band is made of people. We’re going to be fine.”
It has been a long, challenging road for the Phil Campbell community. Full recovery from a tornado of this capacity can take years; but, Bobby’s passion for his program, coupled with the strong and resilient spirit of the community, has set the trajectory of the Phil Campbell Bobcat band back on course.
Investing in the students, whose lives have been forever changed by this tragic event, a group of hundreds came together on Saturday, March 17, to celebrate the band’s recovery.
Thanks to an outpouring of support from across the country and around the world, including a generous donation from Save the Children partner Warner Music, the destroyed instruments, sheet music, stands, uniforms, and other essential items have been replaced.
Alabama State Senator Roger Bedford joined Franklin County Schools Superintendent Gary Williams, hundreds of Phil Campbell residents, and a number of local television, radio, and print news reporters in celebrating as the students played their hearts out.
Talented musicians, yes, but more importantly, these students are survivors.
They are a component of something larger than themselves, with a thread woven through their individual stories creating a banner of strength and resilience. Their leader is passionate, their hearts are resilient, and their music is inspiring.
They’ve never been featured in Rolling Stone, they may never have a chart-topping hit, but the Phil Campbell High School band is certainly full of superstars.