Brooke Beasley of the band High Water

Photo by April Obholz Bergeler

Salida High School student Brooke Beasley of the band High Water plays the bass at the 2018 SunFest in Riverside Park. Other members of High Water are Alan Mueller, Nina Veazey and Carlos Barrientos. Rok Skool director/event producer Trevor “Bones” Davis said SunFest is “a creative way to celebrate the last day of school.”

The fifth annual kickoff to summer concert festival, SunFest, will take place from 5-10 p.m. Thursday at Riverside Park in Salida.

Seven student bands, ranging in ages from upper elementary to high school, will play back to back (to back) at the event.

Festival organizer Trevor “Bones” Davis, founder of Rok Skool, sees SunFest as a reward for a year of intense preparation by the young musicians. “It gives students something to strive for all year.”

Don’t expect a typical school concert, however.

The young musicians choose tunes on their own (with parental approval), practice alone or together daily and will enjoy the same sound system, lights and even smoke machines as professional musicians who take the Riverside Park stage.

“This gives the kids a great reward for a year of hard work, and it’s also something constructive to do on the last day of school,” Davis said.

Davis’ goals for the ambitious, seven-band concert are student focused. “The students learn empathy, compromise and accountability – real-world skills they’re going to need,” he said.

His young musicians also develop confidence from performing on a large, outdoor stage in front of hundreds of people. “The kids have to get past stage fright and age-related social awkwardness and perform in front of family and friends. But they always walk off the stage with a lot of self-assuredness,” Davis said.

While seven student-led bands will play throughout the evening, don’t expect much lag time between acts. Davis said there is only a five-minute break between sets.

SunFest begins with 10 musicians making their stage debut – the Rookies Rok Skool band, What If. Composed of upper elementary and middle school students, the multi-instrument group will play a 20-minute set.

Crest Academy band CuppaJo’ is up next, Another first-time group, the singers will perform two songs, including an original tune based on llamas. Yes, llamas.

Miss-Match is part of the Junior Varsity program. The six girls wrote some of the songs they’ll play and, like the others, invested an entire year preparing for the Thursday performance.

“That’s a big ticket,” Davis said of playing original works. “They’ve been working hard.

Rogue is the boys’ Junior Varsity band. The high-energy headbangers wanted to pursue the harder side of rock and roll and will belt out classic hits by legends such as Blue Oyster Cult, The Who and Lenny Kravitz.

High Water, a foursome made up of Alan Mueller, Carlos Barrientos, Nina Veazey and Brooke Beasley, have played Salida SteamPlant, Soulcraft Brewing and The Lariat in Buena Vista, in addition to other area venues.

Veazey and Mueller leveraged their time in Rok Skool to attain music scholarships. After graduation, Veazey will head to York St. John University in England to study music. Mueller (who plays in three different bands at SunFest), will also study music in England at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts.

KneeOn, a sister duo, performs the next set in their SunFest debut. Part of Collegiate Rok Skool, Skyler and Ariel Smith are from Westcliffe and travel twice weekly (four hours total) to study music in Salida. The twosome writes a lot of their music and recently spent time at an invitation-only songwriting festival in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

Halfway Decent headlines the fifth annual student music festival. This 10-piece group brings a powerful, high-energy act and includes a horn section, keyboards, seven vocalists, two drummers and up to five guitarists.

They performed last year under the name Riley and are Davis’ original group of Rok Skool students. Constantly rotating instruments, the band plays a wide range of covers, including tunes from Boston, Rush, The Doobie Brothers and Cake.

Putting on such an ambitious festival requires great behind-the-scenes work. In addition to practice time, student performers have to assist in unloading then repacking their equipment (along with parents) and invest time in a complete sound check before their stage time.

Financially, SunFest costs $6,500 to produce. The money is used to provide professional sound and light equipment and engineers, plus high-quality YouTube videos that many students later use as audition pieces when applying for college scholarships.

Contributing to the funding for SunFest are Articipate, Pinon Real Estate Group, Rotary Club of Salida, Heart of the Rockies Radio, High Country Bank, Peak Solar Designs, Mike’s Garage and Su Casa Furniture & Sleep Shop.

“It’s a total community-driven event,” Davis said.

Seven bands in five hours. Riverside Park will be rocking Thursday, as concertgoers begin summer with high-quality songs from the next generation of local musicians.

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