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18-member band with horn section enjoying success in Aroostook

In 2010, friends and fellow musicians Brian Mosher, Chris Morton and Mark Shaw formed a three-person “impromptu” band to perform in the Rockin’ on Riverside concert series in Presque Isle.  

Sometime during conversation Mosher mentioned how he had always wanted to play in a Motown band with a horn section. None of them expected that seven years later they would all be members of Star City Syndicate, an 18-member band whose horn section includes three trumpets, three trombones and five saxophones.

Star City Syndicate has just ended their busiest year so far with shows at venues such as Riverside Pavillion, the Crown of Maine Balloon Festival, the Northern Maine Fair, University of Maine at Presque Isle, the Potato Blossom Festival, Ashland High School, Story Park in Washburn and the Caribou Performing Arts Center.  

In the beginning the group mostly performed classic 1960s Motown songs from artists such as Stevie Wonder and Sam and Dave, but the members have expanded their set list to include classic pop and contemporary bands such as Chicago; Blood, Sweat and Tears; and Need to Breathe, on songs that showcase the horn players.

The band performed its first few shows in 2016 with only 12 members, but grew quickly because many members are current or former music educators who invited students and mutual friends to rehearsals.  Many members simply showed up one day for rehearsal at King Morton’s Hall of Music, the music store that Morton owns on Main Street in Presque Isle, and found themselves part of a diverse group of people who center the band on one goal: playing music that audiences of all ages can enjoy.

“One of the ways that I always try to get better as a musician is to surround myself with musicians who are better than me,” Mosher, the band’s keyboard and lead guitar player, said. “It’s not easy learning how to exist as a band with 18 people, but when you’re sharing your passion with different people you get closer and that’s what has happened with all of us.”

Despite their full-time work and school schedules, Star City Syndicate members rehearse every two weeks at KMH Music. They already have several performances scheduled for 2018, including a March 2 show at the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Wieden Hall, June 14 and Aug. 9 shows at Riverside Pavillion, the Acadian Festival in Madawaska on Aug. 11, Thursdays on Sweden in Caribou on Aug. 2 and in Oakfield on Feb. 24 and June 30.

Last year, the band performed to crowds as large as 200 people and members formed unique memories from their experiences. Morton, a drummer for Star City Syndicate, noted that their September show at the Caribou Performing Arts Center, a benefit for the United Veterans Fund, stands out in his mind.

“For most of the concert, the house lights were down and all we could see was the glare of the stage lights. During our final encore, someone turned the house lights up,” Morton said.  “The band realized that roughly 200 people were dancing in the aisles.  I can’t begin to describe how much fun it was for the band to share that moment with the audience.”

With every performance, Star City Syndicate has gained greater support from community members, many of whom come to the stage after a show to thank the band for showcasing older music such as Motown. Due to demand, the band has begun selling T-shirts and hats with their logo at KMH Music and on their website: http://starcitysyndicate.com/.   

Mosher, who also is a member of the bands Common Crossing and Brian and Doug, remembers one of Star City Syndicate’s first performances with all their current members, at the lodge of Bigrock Ski Area in Mars Hill, as the moment he knew that what they had as a band was special.

“No one there had heard us play before. We started playing “Soul Man” and the horns came together and made this great big sound that echoed through the lodge, this big open area,” Mosher said.  “All the hairs on my arm stood up and I thought, ‘Wow, I’m in a band with a horn section. I’m doing one of the things I’ve always wanted to do because of this band.’”

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