Cave Creek Unified Education Foundation
Gilroy proudly calls itself the “Garlic Capital of the World.” For tulips, unless you’re headed to Holland, you want to go to Snohomish County, up past Seattle in Washington State. A town in North Carolina called Mount Olive is known for its pickles. It started when they had a huge crop of cucumbers, and decided to pickle them.
Here in Cave Creek, a bumper crop of musicians is sprouting.
One after another, a group of talented kids as young as seventh grade took the makeshift stage at the Carefree/Cave Creek Chamber of Commerce annual awards dinner in March. All of the budding musicians seemed poised and polished, without a hint of nervousness.
The entertainment was sponsored by Cave Creek Unified Education Foundation, the garden that is simultaneously nourishing the young musicians, and raising a stunning amount of money. According to the CCUEF website, “The Cave Creek Unified Education Foundation was formed independent of the Cave Creek Unified School District to provide an alternative, tax exempt source of funding. Founded in 2009 to provide monetary aid to the Cave Creek Unified School District, the foundation is committed to pursuing additional sources of revenue to support three strategic areas of student impact: classroom resources and technology; international learning/IB/language programs; and arts and music education.”
In less than four years, CCUEF has raised $50,000; in turn, the foundation has passed on grants to seven schools in the district. This “musician garden” is growing itself, with plans to double the fundraising efforts, continue the popular “Rock the District” annual show and launch an “unplugged” monthly series.
Those plans are music to the ears of performance-hungry local teens like Bobbi Kerr. Bobbi got a guitar when she was eight years old, started playing and hasn’t stopped playing, singing and dreaming. Now, her life is guided by one word: Nashville.
Well, that and two others: Taylor Swift.
Sure, she still goes to school, enjoying English and business classes at Cactus Shadows High School. And she still does normal-kid stuff, like riding quads on a family camping vacation over spring break. But she really comes alive when she straps the guitar over one little shoulder, steps in front of a microphone and starts to sing, with a country voice that seems far older than its owner.
From the living room of a tucked-away Cave Creek home, Bobbi was asked where she likes to sing. “I sing everywhere,” she said, rolling her eyes in mild self-mockery. “I sing inside, outside, riding my bike, I sing in the shower. I’m always singing.”
“To the point where she makes us crazy,” commented her mother, the smiling-with-pride Yvonne Kerr.
“They yell at me a lot,” said Bobbi, with an I-don’t-care-no-one’s-stopping-me look in her eye.
After being recruited by Kristin Nelson, Bobbi Kerr joined CCUEF about two years ago. Bobbi also is part of “Chicks with Picks,” a group of hundreds of female guitar players. Between events sponsored by the two, Bobbi has played Harold’s, el Pedegral, Buffalo Chip, Hard Rock Café, Cody’s and a handful of other venues.
She is 15 years old, by the way; a freshman at Cactus Shadows.
With a performance resume like hers, perhaps it’s no surprise she looked so relaxed at the Chamber of Commerce event held at the Tatum Ranch Golf Club. “It wasn’t that big a crowd of people,” she said, with a shrug. She does admit to nerves before performances, “… but after I play the first song, then I warm up.”
She sings material by her musical idol, Taylor Swift, as well as Carrie Underwood, Jessie J., Eden’s Edge, Miranda Lambert and even a few originals. “I wrote one for my grandma called ‘I Love You More,’ another one called ‘Dear John.’”
Being a part of Chicks with Picks and CCUEF has been a boost, both musically and socially. “I like these groups because they get you out there more and help you meet people that have the same interests as you. If it wasn’t for this group I probably would just be doing a lot of open mikes.”
Instead, she and her musical friends from around Cave Creek are performing at venues that normally host veteran, professional musicians. “It’s exciting,” said Yvonne, Bobbi’s mother. “You get excited for all the kids. They’re living the dream, doing what they want to do. They just never seem nervous!” As for CCUEF, “I think it’s a great foundation,” Yvonne continued. “It allows the kids to contribute and raise funds. … The money they raise helps keep those programs around.”
Speaking of fundraising, Bobbi Kerr is banking as much money as she can with her vision on that country hotbed in Tennessee: “I want to go to Nashville.”
Performing with the group also has helped Victoria Grovich grow, personally and musically. “Playing music has helped me to get out of being shy and be friendly with people,” said Victoria, another 15-year-old. Like Bobbi Kerr, Victoria also seemed relaxed and in her element at the Chamber of Commerce show. “It’s always a little nerve wracking getting out in front of people. But it’s fun, too,” she said. A naturally reserved type, Victoria had been playing guitar and singing on her own for a few years before making her public debut with a “Rock the District” show. She quickly found a home at CCUEF. “It’s fun to work with everybody. I really like it because it’s more acoustic than some of the other groups.”
Victoria is an acoustic guitarist who covers the likes of alternative rockers Lincoln Park, Coldplay and Matchbox 20. Like the country girl Bobbi, alternative Victoria lives for music, whether it’s performing in public or practicing on her own. How this budding poet-singer spends her time: “I like to play a lot and write songs.”
While the kids are the stars of the CCUEF shows, parents have been working hard behind the scenes, planning, plotting, preparing and selflessly doing the grunt work.
The adult contributors range from founding members like Tammy Baker to newcomers such as Cynthia Weiss. “I am a brand new trustee with CCUEF, having just officially started in January,” said Weiss. “I have been a patron fan of the mission and principles of this group since the beginning, when Cactus Shadows student Melissa Nelson embarked on her personal journey to ‘do something big for others that you cannot do yourself.’ My personal experience has been very rewarding, and I am proud and honored to be associated with CCUEF and my fellow trustees.”
Baker praises the support from Cactus Shadows School District: “The district and especially the Superintendent Debbie Burdick and staff have been wonderful to work with, and very supportive of the foundation.
“I know I speak for the entire board when I say that we all feel very fortunate to have our children in such an excelling district with fantastic teachers and administration. Being able to give back to the district, even in a small way, through being a part of the CCUEF is a real privilege. We look forward to seeing it grow and flourish over the upcoming years.”
Grow and flourish. Sounds like a fitting goal for a musical garden.
Writer Tom Scanlon
Photographer Jerri Parness