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TEDxKC audiences get Led Zep tones, with 'kid-rock' style

The percussion group Louisville Leopards performed at TEDxKC, Saturday, Aug. 29. (Photo: Jesus Lopez-Gomez)
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In April, long before young percussion rock group the Louisville Leopards traveled to Kansas City for a surprise performance at TEDxKC, Ozzy Osbourne — yes, the doom metal legend former frontman of Black Sabbath rumored to dine on bats — wrote to the group lauding them for their rendition of his “Crazy Song” and announcing a $10,000 donation to the group.

Videos of the group performing contemporary pieces like “Oye Como Va” have cropped up in all of our newsfeeds, even once appearing on NPR.

But, speaking backstage at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts before their Kansas City debut Saturday, Louisville Leopards Audestie Butler, in eighth grade,  and Mimi Mutchnick, in fourth grade, dispensed with the idea that the group has achieved stardom.

“They tell us we’re famous, but it doesn’t seem like that,” Butler said. “It just seems like, normal to us. It hasn’t changed our everyday routine.”

“Other people think it’s cool, I guess.”

“Other people” here includes Led Zeppelin frontman Jimmy Page who earlier this year lauded the group’s performance via social media.

Page shared the Led Zeppelin medley, which the Louisville Leopards opened with at the TEDxKC stage.

Butler, an eighth grader and one of the more senior members of the Louisville Leopards, has been playing since second grade. She backed the ensemble drum set for the Kansas City performance.

Butler has played in Chicago and New Orleans with the percussion group.

For Mutchnick, this was her first major outing.

“I have a few butterflies in my stomach,” the second grader said.

Two, “maybe three,” butterflies, she reported. “I’m nervous because I’m playing drum set, but I’ve done this a lot before so …”

“Oh yeah: [lead conductor] Diane [Downs] always says, ‘Don’t mess up,’” Butler added as the program director walked past.

The director paused, and walked back to a laughing Butler and Mutchnick.

“Stop it. Stop it right now,” she said. “Don’t write any of that down.”

The minutes before the group steps on to the stage at the cavernous, imposing 1,600-seat Helzburg Hall auditorium are fairly carefree. The directors distract the students with games.

Then, when it’s time to file out, the 57 performers fall in line and buckle down for the performance.

“We’re treating these guys like professional musicians,” Downs said. “We don’t treat them like little kids. We don’t dumb things down for them. … We hit them with everything we’ve got and they don’t disappoint me.”

Downs said the same interest in treating the group as capable and potentially great performers is what drove her to challenge them with more current and non-standard school band material.

“We want to teach them music that has made a difference, quality music that has changed things,” Downs said. “We don’t play little kid tunes.”

Also, she said, “Who doesn’t love Led Zeppelin?”

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