The music stopped, and legendary rocker Steve Miller turned and smiled at the 75-member youth orchestra who just finished playing “Fly Like an Eagle” from the eponymous 1976 album.
“I think we’re ready,” the Steve Miller Band front-man said outside Old Town Temecula’s Civic Center during a sound check. “Nicely done.”
Miller, of the “Abracadabra” and “The Joker” fame, performed a special outdoor concert with the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra on the Civic Center Plaza Sunday night to benefit Kids Rock Free, which is being implemented at Temecula’s new Context Middle School later this month.
Sunday’s concert was the second of two nights premiering the “Rock Symphony.” The piece was played Saturday in Corona.
Also performing with Miller and the orchestra were violin virtuoso David Courcheron, concert pianist Julie Courcheron, Fender Center’s Kids Rock Free rock band “The Fender Benders,” as well as conductor Rune Bergmann.
Proceeds from the sold-out show of around 1,100 attendees will benefit the program, which provides free and low-cost music lessons to children ages 7 to 17 in piano, guitar, bass, drums and vocal performance. Tickets ranged from $35 to $100.
It will be the first time the program will open in a public school, offering up to 500 children lessons in their after-school program.
Michele Smith, founder of Context Schools, was running around behind the scenes Sunday afternoon, pausing to reflect on her excitement.
“Wouldn’t you be?” she said, grinning. “This is going to be a flipping awesome concert.”
A former businesswoman and entrepreneur, Smith said she thought the most difference could be made in a community by creating schools where music felt renewed appreciation.
“I felt that music needed to go back into the schools,” said Smith, a classically trained pianist herself. Kids Rock Free guitar lessons will begin starting Sept. 26. After more fundraising, lessons in bass, keyboards and drums will be implemented.
“This is a whole new model,” she said.
Smith said she thought ticket sales struggled initially because people didn’t realize it was the real Steve Miller who was appearing in Old Town, not some tribute band.
But by Sunday night, organizers couldn’t accommodate all of the interest.
“We have people walking up to the gates wanting to buy tickets,” she said of the sold-out show.
About 60 Context School eighth graders in white polo T-shirts were on hand to help out during the event while raising money for their Washington D.C. trip next year.
Spencer Isensee, 13, of Temecula, said he was getting excited to be a part of the Kids Rock Free guitar lessons starting later this month.
“It’ll be pretty cool,” said Isensee, noting that he already is learning the trumpet and starting to learn the piano.
Barbara Isensee, Spencer’s mother and Context School volunteer, said she appreciates how the new school provides real-world experiences to accompany their classroom teachings.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “The school is amazing.”