Features, Print April 3, 2020

All Together Now: The Burroughs’ Bands Give Back Initiative

by Valerie Vampola

Seeking Community Investment in Greeley’s Youth Music Programs

Mary Claxton was 5 years old when she started piano lessons, but it was her older brothers who pushed her to take up percussion. By middle school she was playing a mean “Hot Crossed Buns” in the percussion squad.

Meanwhile, Briana Harris was picking up the saxophone and embracing the “band geek” life. Music was such an important part of their lives that they each decided to make a career of it. Eventually the two would join forces as core members of Greeley’s nine-piece, self-described “sweaty soul” band, The Burroughs. It’s these humble beginnings in school which pushed The Burroughs to start the Bands Give Back initiative.

“The arts are a mental lifeline for kids in the public school system,” Claxton said in an interview for BandWagon. “Everyone deserves to express themselves and have joy throughout the school day. It’s not a privilege.”

Mary Claxton and Hayden Farr of Trashcat (a Burroughs spin-off band) paid a musical visit to Scott Elementary on March 12 as part of the Bands Give Back Initiative. Photos by Valerie Vampola

Claxton has a vested interest in propping up the arts in schools, as she’s the director of programs for Little Kids Rock in Colorado, a non-profit organization that provides free music instruction and instruments to public school districts. But that’s also part of The Burroughs’ mission, as they participate in benefit concerts or making in-person appearances to play and sing their favorite Dr. Suess books. 

In the fall of 2019, they decided to start a special fund through the Success Foundation, a non-profit organization that serves the Greeley-Evans School District, as well as donate a percentage of every merchandise sale. Their goal is to raise $2000 and supply music teachers across the district with teaching materials. But outside of raising funds, what The Burroughs really want to see come of this initiative is more involvement from their peers in the local music industry.

“We want it to be a program initiative, in which we are leaders, but the ownership belongs to everyone,” Harris said.

Larger entities have donated heftier sums with similar intent. The Newport Folk Festival, for example, gave $10,000 towards purchasing materials for Mariachi ensembles in Denver. But the Burroughs know how hard it is for new artists and bands to engage in larger charity functions. Everyone is just trying to stay afloat in the beginning, which is why they are encouraging smaller acts of philanthropy. Other area bands like The Great Salmon Famine are contributing by donating $1 for every CD they sell. Members of Silver & Gold worked at the Boys & Girls Club, and another Claxton band, Trashcat, paid a recent visit to Scott Elementary and engaged students in a sing-along to “How To Catch a Leprechaun.”

In addition to her roles in Trashcat and The Burroughs, Claxton (left) is the Director of Programs for Little Kids Rock. Photos by Valerie Vampola

But they also want to engage businesses such as WeldWerks Brewing Company, which matched the Burroughs dollar for dollar and they want to encourage people to support bands that give back by buying their CDs and merch, following them on social media and going to their shows.

As someone who constantly works youth music programs, Claxton sees those needs extending beyond monetary support to services like constructing instrument storage, providing transportation, instrument repair and instrument tuning.

“The stronger the professional scene is, the more interest there is in fundraising, which feeds the musical ecosystem,” said Harris.

After several years of community outreach, the Burroughs have seen results. Kids receive instruments, and other hands-on benefits. But other results even go beyond the tangible. Claxton, Harris and crew have seen children they’ve touched via the program grow up and come to their shows. Not all of these kids grow up to be musicians like they have, but they serve as another example of an adult member of the music community outside of their school and home environment. For kids to see someone like themselves grow into successful community members, musicians or not, is downright elementary.

The Burroughs’ BANDFEST, a Benefit for the Chappelow Arts Magnet School, has been postponed from the originally scheduled date of today, April 3rd due to coronavirus precautions. Though a make-up date has not yet been scheduled, The Burroughs remain committed to their fundraising goal, expecting to reach and distribute funds by late summer 2020. For artists and bands interested in becoming involved with the Bands Give Back initiative, visit theburroughssoul.com/bandsgiveback