Walk into the gym at Burlington High School during a basketball game and you might think you’ve walked into a rock concert by mistake.
Orange Crush is not your traditional high school pep band, but instead a full blown rock band. The band generally consists of a lead singer, guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, and a horn section. All of which is made up almost entirely of high school students led by Burlington Middle School choir director Rod Stoughton and retired Burlington music teacher Ron Pederson.
“When you go to a lot of high school gyms now today a lot of people are using pre-recorded music,” Stoughton said. “It’s a lot of rap music, it’s a lot of rock music, and it’s a lot of stuff that’s on the radio today. We take a different approach.”
“It’s a really unique situation and I couldn’t be more proud of what these kids are doing,” Pederson said. “I played professionally off and on in the area since the 70s and this now is the best band I’ve ever played with.”
The band plays a wide variety of songs. From classic rock by Journey and Kansas to funk and R&B by Stevie Wonder and Bruno Mars.
“It’s really the kind of music that’s designed to pump up a crowd,” Stoughton said.
And that’s exactly why Orange Crush was started in 2009. The Burlington High School athletic director came to Rod and Ron asking if they had any ideas on how to get the crowds more involved during basketball games. They quickly looked to the Tower of Power, a soul band that started in 1968, for inspiration.
“So we’re big fans of that style of music,” Stoughton said. “It didn’t start off exactly that way. But it grew that way quickly with a lead singer, keyboards, bass, and the horn section that we were using. And behold, Orange Crush was born and it’s kind of evolved ever since.”
Outside of evolving musically, Orange Crush has also helped its members evolve in other areas as well. Keyboard player Spencer Spiewak credits the band with helping him grow socially.
“I’ve always been a quiet person. I think the band has helped me kind of be a little more social,” Spiewak said. “Getting to know the people in the band. In turn allowing me to get to know a little more people around the school. For sure in terms of social I’ve talked to quite a few more people through it.”
The band has also taken their talents outside the gym. Playing at local coffee shops, fundraisers and even taking the stage at Summerfest once. But it’s the opportunity to let these kids play together in a legit rock band that really matters to Ron and Rod.
“I’ve always said that when I was teaching, my job isn’t to train professional musicians. It’s to broaden their horizons. Give them appreciation for the art form and learn how to play well with others,” Pederson said. “I’m hoping that what it takes to play difficult music, at a high level, with 13 other people. Hopefully those are some life skills that transfer to their future.”
Orange Crush covers “Separate Ways” by Journey
Listen to Orange Crush cover… “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas