From Stages to Schools
By Will Estell
If you’ve experienced The Velcro Pygmies live, then they need no introduction. They’ve performed for years locally at Tailfins, Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation’s Concerts in the Village, Club L.A. and recently at Seaside School’s Taste of the Race. If you’re a fan of 80s and 90s rock, and moreover, the showmanship that goes along with it, you’re probably going to become a Pygmies fan around the third or fourth song of your first show. The world-famous Velcro Pygmies specialize in taking their fans on a journey to a place and space in time when hair was big, pants were tight, screaming was singing, and in the illustrious words of KISS’s Gene Simmons, “If it’s too loud. You’re too old” rang true.
The Pygmies formed in Louisville, Ky., in the 90s, playing night clubs, college campuses and frat parties, primarily across the Southeast. The band – whose four members consist of founder and frontman, Cameron Flener, guitarist, Chase West, bassist, Max War, and drummer, Chris Eddins — reside across two states, but tour together for three to five shows each week. They’ve managed to not only maintain a strong fan base, especially here in Destin, but also to drastically build upon it over the decades.
Whether you go to a Velcro Pygmies show here in Destin, Auburn or Tuscaloosa, Ala., Atlanta, Houston or Cleveland, you will see a crowd made up of 35 to 50 somethings who became fans in their own college days, as well as 19 and 25 year old fans that have more recently started following the Pygmies and their brand of big hair, glitter bombs and long guitar solos. Somehow, they’ve managed to capture that almost magical magnetism that entices and entertains beyond any particular barriers. That, in a nutshell, is what makes Reach and Teach work too.
Giving Back Through Reach & Teach
In an effort to follow a passion of positively impacting future generations, five years ago Cameron Flener (affectionately referred to as Cam by his friends and Pygmie fans) made the leap from the clubs to the classrooms, in a remarkable endeavor called Reach and Teach.
Reach and Teach is a unique program. The free program is facilitated through individual school systems and is built upon a nine-week curriculum, whereby students are given the opportunity to orchestrate, plan and execute a concert that takes place at their school. The Reach and Teach program is the brainchild of April Clark, a high school business teacher in Alabama, who originated the concept. The forward-thinking teacher was in the beginning stages of facilitating her vision of such an opportunity for students, and teamed with Pygmies founder, Flener, after the singer related to Clark how impressed he was with the program she was working on, and how much he would like to be a part of it full time.
I sat down with Cam, over lunch, to talk a little more about this program firsthand. Though Flener has made a living through rock music, he is as much an entrepreneur and great thinker as a great performer. He’s extremely well spoken, intuitive and insightful, and as such was quick to point out that Reach and Teach isn’t about rock and roll music as much as it is about truly giving something back, creating a legacy of sorts and being involved in something that is much larger than himself or his band.
“We’re not creating rock promoters, we are helping to create good, productive human beings,” he said. “The vision that April and I have created for Reach and Teach is to take this program all over the entire country. We want to help these students in realizing what the utilization of real-world life skills are about. These are soft skills we are teaching. The things that we all need to know: How to budget, how to present or pitch potential sponsors, how to sell their vision to others. Reach and Teach is about empowering these young people to believe in themselves and their abilities to make things happen.”
Clark explained it this way: “A rock concert provides the perfect vehicle for condensing all the aspects of operating a business into a limited time frame. Students learn about budgeting, marketing, public relations, web design, audio visual, logistics, and, most importantly, are able to analyze the results of their event once it’s over.”
Cam went on to say, “Reach and Teach students are hands-on in doing everything from deciding on the venue (normally on the school grounds, and during regular school hours) to helping the band set up and tear down the stage. They truly learn what it takes to plan an event from concept to fruition, including how to make money for their school or school related fundraiser along the way. All with something that excites and interests them.”
As a magazine editor and writer, I first became familiar with Reach and Teach during its infancy, around 2018. Since then I have had the opportunity to hear from educators, school administrators, and parents about the merits of this remarkable free program which has now impacted students in over 20 states. And now it’s coming to our area. The program will be presented during the 2023 and 2024 school years at a growing number of high schools in Northwest Florida. Because of its popularity, Reach and Teach has quickly become sustained by sponsorship monies from a growing number of companies who want to insure Reach and Teach continues to be free for the schools and students who benefit from it.
Some of the stories are remarkable in their positive impacts and life-changing alterations—students discovered and honed their skills as photographers, sound engineers and sponsorship salespeople. Some even became musicians, writers and singers after taking part in Reach and Teach through their own high school.
Beyond the life skills the students learn from the program, Cam said, “Our program provides institutions a new and exciting opportunity for fundraising, or as we call it ‘FUN raising.’ Because the program is provided free of charge to qualifying institutions, it allows many school systems to raise a significantly greater amount of money than your average run-of-the-mill, plastic spirit cups, cookie dough or discount cards fundraiser could ever accomplish. As a result, schools are encouraged to sell tickets to the event and even allow outside guests to attend the subsequent performance. We don’t ask for money. Reach and Teach simply asks that we are able to present our sponsorship portfolio to the students during the period the program is running.”
This works out well for companies like Rock ‘n Roll Sushi, Buc-ee’s, Chord Buddy, OWA and other sponsors who feel strongly about using their successes to give back and help make this program possible for the thousands of students that are benefitting from this generosity and remarkable effort. The students win. The schools win. The sponsors win. Even the local community and concert attendees win. Everyone involved leaves every show, at every school just a little better than they were before those nine weeks leading to the culmination of that big show.
The Velcro Pygmies certainly rock. However, Reach and Teach isn’t as much about music as it is about preparing the future leaders of our great country for a much larger and more important stage: Adulthood.
Find The Velcro Pygmies on Facebook or IG. To learn more about Reach and Teach, visit ReachandTeach.rocks and follow on Facebook at ReachandTeach.
Will Estell is a writer, media entrepreneur, occasional actor, and coastal real estate professional with more than 600 published magazine features in an array of genres. Over the past 25 years, he has been instrumental in shepherding 12 new magazines from concept to fruition, as well as serving as editor in chief for numerous others. Originally from the backwoods of rural Mississippi, Will is a father of three who splits his time between Destin and Navarre, along with his wife, WEAR ABC 3 news anchor, Laura Hussey. Will is a regular contributor to Life Media’s publications, as well as many other magazines, papers, and websites. He also happens to be a Velcro Pygmies fan, himself, and has even been known to join them on stage for a song or two.
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