By Patrick Dillon
exeter – May 10 was just supposed to be another day at Exeter Union High School. Filled with testing, senioritis, and talk of plans for the summer. However, shortly after students began arriving on campus the talk switched from plans for the summer, to there is going to be a surprise concert today!
Undoubtedly, the information flowing around campus was met with a hefty amount of skepticism by the students. But shortly after the day began the rumor of a concert turned into fact after an announcement confirmed that there would indeed be a surprise free show, headlined by non-other than the Grammy award winning band, The Plain White T’s. Along with the musicians, the High School Nation Tour brought booths, had activities and will be returning to build a recording studio at EUHS.
“I was super excited that I started screaming and dancing and began to sing ‘Hey There Delilah’ in chemistry [class],” said EUHS junior Kassi Stolz.
Once the information began to sink in there might have been some who believed that the EUHS staff had kept this a secret all year. That could not be further from the truth, in fact, the concert was put together and went off without a hitch in less than 24 hours.
At 9:29 p.m. on Tuesday, May 9, most of the administrative staff at EUHS did not even know that National High School Tour even existed. But at 9:30 p.m. EUHS activities director Jason Welch received a text message asking him if the high school would like to chance to put on a free concert.
That text message was from Isaac Lopez, a fellow activities director up at a Madera High School, where the tour was scheduled to play. But for unknown reasons they had to cancel the show. Now Lopez was giving the chance to EUHS.
There was, however, a catch. EUHS was not the only ones being told about the opening. Lopez had also messaged Tulare Western High School’s activities director. While Welch was still getting all the details from Lopez, he did not hesitate and immediately called EUHS’s principle Bob Mayo. Once Mayo got over the shock of the reality of the situation, he came back with, “Yeah, let’s make that happen.”
“This just all sounded too good to be true,” said Mayo. “Yes, we are academic focused but we are finding that balance of creating those memories for the kids and this is something they will never forget.”
Once EUHS accepted the offer it was 10 p.m., 15 hours before show time, and there was still a lot to be done before the 1 p.m. start time the next day.
At 5 a.m., eight hours before show time, Mayo and Welch met. By that time, Welch had already drawn up some adjusted schedules for the staff. The plan was to cancel classes after their noon lunch. That way when the kids came back onto campus they could go out to the softball fields where the concert was being set up. Mayo approved and shortly after sent a message out to the faculty regarding an impromptu staff meeting.
That meeting was held at 7:45 a.m., five hours and fifteen minutes before show time. Mayo laid everything that was going on out before the staff. The booths, the bands, the fact that the Plain White Ts were the headliner and the recording studio.
After laying everything before his staff Mayo’s message was simple, “We know there is AP testing, we know there is other things but this just seems like an opportunity of a lifetime.” The staff agreed.
After the meeting the Exeter Police Department was notified that there was going to be a concert so they could be on scene in case there was an emergency.
And the hours clicked toward the time when the first band, Just Seconds Apart, was going to hit the stage. As the High School Nation trucks began to arrive. And after a failed attempt to keep it a secret around the small EUHS campus Mayo sent out a message reassuring everyone that this concert was the right thing to do. In that message was a quote from the late John Denver, “Music does bring people together…”
For the groups lead singer and acoustic guitarist Tom Higgenson the ability to be a part of a tour that brings music to high schoolers takes him back to his high school days.
“I know what all these kids are going through,” said Higgenson. “I remember the ups and downs of it so being able to come in and hopefully inspire some kids and at the very least make some kids smile and have fun for a few hours, it’s a pretty awesome experience.”
Now for the High School Nation Tour, they were told of the cancellation at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night, two and a half hours before EUHS got the offer. While there were some thoughts of a possible day off, the down side was that they were not going to be able to play. But excitement returned only a couple hours later when they were notified that EUHS was their replacement school.
“The kids on this tour are the most excited, the happiest kids to every play for because they should be in school and they are getting a fee concert instead. You can’t beat that,” said Higgenson.
Starting off the concert were acts such as Alex B, a rapper, who got the crowd jumping with his high-energy stage and crowd presence. Then there was Elle Ranae, a rock musician, who got the crowd head bobbing with songs like Green Day’s “Idiot America.”
Yet when the Plain White Ts took the stage to perform all eyes were on them. Even athletes getting ready to compete at the D-II Valley Championship Track Meet taking place at the football stadium abandoned their warmups and rushed over to watch the band.
Like all the groups before them the Plain White Ts only played four songs. Yet they had saved the best for last. When the first few cords of the groups hit “Hey there Delilah” were strum the crowd went into a scene of euphoria, singing along as if they were the ones on stage.
Seeing the band play their hit single was special for one EUHS senior Arianun Velasquez. In fourth grade Velasquez had entered a lip singing contest. Her song of choice for the competition, “Hey there Delilah.”
“I had planned to be right at the front and low and behold I was there screaming my heart out,” said Velasquez. “I just began thinking about my fourth grade year and how I lip synced it, but this year I’m not going to lip sync it, I’m going to be singing with them.”
The High School Nation Tour performs at high schools all across the country. Their mission is to introduce music and the arts to students. But the bands that performed on stage were just one of the aspects. Along with the band students were treated to booths where they can try their hand at DJ equipment, electric guitars and drums, as well as tie dye shirts. The tour plans on stopping at 60 high schools this year. Giving each one a free recording studio estimated to be worth $30,000 to boost the teaching of music in this modern day. Something that Mayo is still trying to get over the shock of.
“We haven’t even had a chance to wrap our heads around this idea of a recording studio,” said Mayo. “Quite honestly if we didn’t have the recording studio and just had this I would have been satisfied alone.”
The real joy for Mayo and the staff came from the looks on the kid’s as they could take a break from school and have fun.
“It’s kind of like Christmas when they still believe in Santa Claus, and to see the joy that is brought to their faces,” said Mayo. “To see the kids doing that and celebrating—that’s huge.”
The kids however, did not let the excitement of the event overshadow their gratitude to their school’s staff, as well as toward the workers who operated the booths.
“The other part of it is the kids that continued to thank us. Then to hear how appreciative and polite they were I could not be more proud,” said Mayo. “I always say, it is a privilege to be the principle here and today the kids made me realize that it is indeed a privilege.”
Next year when Stolz is a senior and ASB president, she plans on having the High School Nation Tour back, and it appears as if the feeling is mutual.
After the concert there were many workers from the High School Nation Tour who complimented Mayo and Welch about how amazing the EUHS students were. The workers went so far as to say that they would love to come back.
To learn more about the High School Nation Tour follow them on Instagram @highschoolnation or @hsntours.