FFA String Bands, From Front Porch to Center Stage

FFA gives young musicians a chance to shine.

By Amy Bickers & Brigid Galloway | Photos By Butch Dill

Thompson, McClendon, George, Hicks and Rains warm up outside before taking the stage at the state competition.

Thompson, McClendon, George, Hicks and Rains warm up outside before taking the stage at the state competition.

If they wanted to win the top prize, they needed to put in more hours.

That’s what the five Fyffe High School students concluded as they drove home from the 2012 Alabama state FFA competition. They had come in second. The next year’s competition would most likely be their last shot too, since four out of the five would be seniors at their small north Alabama school. Or as Marty Myers, their FFA sponsor, says: “This is the last rodeo for most of them.”

The high school boys weren’t vying for ribbons for their prized Holstein heifer or Rhode Island Red rooster, however. Instead, what John Hicks, Tom George, Jesse McClendon, Avery Rains and Levi Thompson needed to train were strings on a banjo, three guitars and a mandolin.

“We don’t know nothing about chickens,” says George, laughing. George, who plays mandolin, admitted he unsuccessfully tried showing poultry a few years ago. “All we know is music.”

And, boy, do they know music.

The Fyffe High School FFA String Band, now known as Pickett’s Charge, has enjoyed considerable success. The teenagers have appeared on RFD-TV, served as grand marshals at Fyffe’s Christmas parade, been booked for a variety of events and will release their second CD in 2014.

All the members of this five-piece ensemble fell in love with music at a young age. George, with a musically inclined family, started playing when he was only 7. Hicks, lead vocalist, began singing almost as soon as he began talking and played guitar at age 9. McClendon plays bass guitar and sings tenor. He first played guitar when he was 9 or 10. At 12 or 13, Thompson started playing the banjo. Rains, guitarist, began strumming at a tender age as well.

The guys are songwriters, too. For the competition, they decided to include original tunes as part of the three-song requirement. While most bands perform bluegrass at the state competition, the repertoire of Pickett’s Charge includes country and western and gospel, as well as bluegrass.

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