OGDEN — It may seem odd to hear a bunch of elementary school students from Utah singing about a Kentucky moon shining on someone who’s done them wrong romantically, or carrying around heavy loads — especially at their tender age.
But somehow, it works.
On Monday night, about 20 students from Taylor Canyon Elementary School in Ogden joined the bluegrass band Chris Jones & The Night Drivers onstage for a pair of songs. The free concert, held in the Ogden Amphitheater, was a closing ceremony of sorts for last weekend’s Ogden Music Festival. It also featured festival bands Cain Mill Road and Jubilee.
The Ogden students rehearsed with Jones and his band on Saturday, gathering at a bowery in Fort Buenaventura during last weekend’s Ogden Music Festival. At that rehearsal, Jones gave the students a bit of background about the two songs they’d be singing together — “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” and “Bend in the Road.”
Jones told the students that “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was written by Bill Monroe in 1946, in the early days of the musical genre known as bluegrass.
“When the song came out, a young man from Mississippi was fond of it and recorded it,” Jones said. “That young man was Elvis Presley.”
By contrast, "Bend in the Road” is an original Night Drivers tune.
“The bass player and I wrote this,” Jones told the children, adding, “Elvis has never done this one.”
“And he never will,” quipped bassist and co-writer Jon Weisberger.
Jones said he came up with the idea for “Bend in the Road” after reading “Anne of Green Gables” to his daughter. The book’s main character, Anne Shirley, was always waiting for the next thing to come around the bend into her life.
Jones said working with the young students — who varied from third- through sixth-graders — has been a treat for the band. And “Blue Moon of Kentucky” had some challenging musical timing issues for the children.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but this was better than I’d hope,” Jones said after the group’s Saturday rehearsal.
This is the fourth year Taylor Canyon Elementary students have sung with a performer from the festival. Past years have seen the school team up with The Wood Brothers, The Hogslop String Band, and The Arcadian Wild.
Reba Nissen, co-director of Ogden Friends of Acoustic Music, said the festival had been looking for a children’s choir with which to collaborate each year and were grateful to hook up with Taylor Canyon Elementary.
“This is an opportunity to expose kids to live traditional music, involve them in it and get them on stage,” Nissen said. “We know that kids do better in all walks of life if they have music in their lives, and part of our mission is to get instruments into kids’ hands.”
Colleen Nicholes, a retired teacher who has been working with the students to prepare their parts in the songs, said the kids were excited to perform with the bluegrass band.
“They love it,” Nicholes said. “The choir is 110 students large, and these students volunteered to do this.”
“We’ve worked with children before, but this is our first time doing something with a choir,” Jones said. “It’s really been fun for us.”
Few, if any, of the students had even heard of Chris Jones & The Night Drivers before getting this gig. Adalyn Chadburn, who just finished the sixth grade, admitted she’s more of an Imagine Dragons fan.
Her mother, Jaime Chadburn of Pleasant View, said she’s appreciative of this annual opportunity for students at the school.
“I think it’s a good experience for these kids,” Chadburn said. “They get to experience different kinds of music, and this isn’t something that’s traditional or normal for students.”
Ogden resident Emily Reeves has two children in the choir, soon-to-be sixth grader Ella and fourth grader Ethan.
“Working with a band like this is pretty cool for them,” Reeves said. “Practicing and doing this concert is good experience.”
Nicholes said the school became involved with this annual performance for a couple of reasons.
“First of all, this makes them appreciate the music they listen to,” she said. “And second, they see how much work goes into being professional musicians. It’s good for their self-esteem.”