Granting musical wishes

Matt DeYoung • Mar 21, 2016 at 12:00 PM

When he was a kid, Gary Burns dreamed of playing bass guitar in a rock band.

That never became a reality — but these days, Burns is making dreams come true for dozens of young musicians on the east side of the state.

Eleven years ago, Burns started 1st Degree Burns, a rock band for his kids and their friends — all aspiring musicians.

“I made them an offer,” said Burns, who’s from Lapeer. “I said, ‘I’ll buy you want you need, if I can be the manager. So friends, nieces and nephews joined, and 11 years later, I’ve got over 60 kids in the program.

“The group I have now, it’s all purely word of mouth,” he continued. “And, as more kids began joining, the more kids we played, the more exposure the band could get and the more the kids saw there was an opportunity. It’s all free to the kids. All I ask is that they have to stay off drugs, keep their grades up and practice their music.”

To make room for all the new faces, Burns started 2nd Degree Burns, and eventually 3rd Degree Burns.

3rd Degree Burns debuted at last year’s Walk the Beat music event in Grand Haven. Burns said he entered primarily as a way to gain exposure and create networking opportunities in the music business.

“One of our staff saw the advertisement for (Walk the Beat), so I entered the contest last year and we got accepted,” Burns said. “My goal was really just to meet Dave (Palmer) and Bill (Chrysler). The kids are really good, and they draw a crowd, but I wasn’t expecting them to win.”

But win they did, in a landslide.

As part of their grand prize, 3rd Degree Burns received studio time to create a CD and a music video. Last weekend, several band members were back in Grand Haven, recording several songs at Chrysler’s studio on Washington Avenue on Grand Haven’s east side.

Burns said the experience of working with Chrysler — who is a big name in the music recording industry — was an honor for his kids.

“Everybody’s doing this stuff in their basement, they have software, but it ain’t the same as being here,” Burns said with a laugh. “This is professional. They’re enjoying it, but the biggest thing is, they’re nervous.”

Carley Heathcock, 18, has been a member of the band for almost 10 years, and said it has been a huge boost to her musically.

“I got involved when I was 11, after I saw them in a show,” said Heathcock, a senior at Lapeer High School. “It’s been such a great experience. It helps me grow as a person. … It helps my talent, too, and gives me exposure. Walk the Beat was amazing. It was crazy how many different genres you see just walking down the street — a country band, a rock band, indy — so many kinds of groups performing.”

Palmer plans on making this year’s Walk the Beat bigger and better than ever, with hundreds of musicians from across the country playing at dozens of venues on Saturday, Aug. 20. Artists will have a chance to win a $10,000 promotional package, while the best song wins $2,500 cash.

In an attempt to boost the amount of money the event raises, volunteers who join the effort to sell 50 tickets will gain admission to exclusive Walk the Beat ticket club parties. The next ticket party is planned for Saturday, March 26.

For more information, visit walkthebeat.org.

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