David Byrne Pairing Nelly Furtado, Ad-Rock and More With High-School Color Guards for All-Star Arena Spectacular

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David Byrne and members of the Ventures Color Guard team from Kitchener Waterloo at a media demonstration and discussion of Contemporary Color at Kerr Hall Gymnasium, Ryerson University on May 8, 2015 in Toronto, Canada.

A color guard/pop-music mash-up "doesn't quite fit a category that people can get their heads around," explains David Byrne. Which means it's exactly the kind of thing that would excite the boundary-pushing musician, artist and author. Color guard, which is popular in schools across the United States, consists of teams doing synchronized, explosive dance moves with props like flags, fake rifles and sabers, usually accompanied by marching bands at football games and pep rallies.

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After learning of color guards when a student asked to use his song for a routine, Byrne, 63, conceived Contemporary Color, an all-star performance that will debut at Toronto's Air Canada Centre June 22-23 and then head to Brooklyn's Barclays Center June 27-28. The former Talking Heads frontman, Nelly Furtado, How to Dress Well, Money Mark and Ad-Rock, St. Vincent and other musicians will each be paired with a color guard team -- he says the kids are "super disciplined and totally committed" -- and play music to their routines. Byrne explains his latest "amazing" and "abstract" creative vision.

Byrne sees himself in color-guard kids.
"A lot of the teens involved in this feel sometimes they aren't accepted when it comes to typical high school kinds of things. So color guard becomes not only a way for them to express themselves but also a kind of a refuge -- a place where they have a ­feeling of belonging. It's tied into their identity. It's way more than just a hobby you do after school."

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The music goes big...
"Color guard teams' passions are high; we want that reflected in the music, too. We didn't go for quiet singer-songwriters. One of the teams worked out stuff to a Tracy Chapman song, but I thought something with more oomph would match the scale of what they're doing. But it isn't a cavalcade of hits. It's not going to be Jingle Ball."

...except for St. Vincent. (She goes dark.)
"The color guard teams work with themes, so we paired them with artists based on that. One team's theme takes place in an insane asylum -- the kids get snatched and taken away. I thought, 'Annie Clark [aka St. Vincent] is going to love this.' "

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Be sure to stay for the grand finale.
"There's going to be 300 kids, lots of musicians and some glitter cannons."

This story originally appeared in the June 27 issue of Billboard.


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