Sweet Invicta: Going orchestral in the San Juans

by CALLOUS FRENCH

Metallica did it in San Francisco. KISS did it in Sydney and called it KISS Alive IV. Cheap Trick still does it in Las Vegas, covering Sgt Pepper in its entirety. And last month, with the 2014-2015 school year winding down, Sweet Invicta did it in the San Juan Islands.

They went orchestral.

Comprised entirely of teenagers, the Invicta (formerly Odd Ones Out) took a set of covers on a tour of the Islands, backed by the Bellingham High School Concert Orchestra. Meticulously charted out for nine parts by guitarists Tanner Wallace and Vincent Blackshadow, the set included songs by The Pixies, The Cars and Cheap Trick.

This was no ordinary TftR van tour. The entourage included a mass of 50 high school students, their fearless and fast-talking conductor Nick Strobel, and a proud handful of parent chaperones. The tour bus rolled in to Island View Elementary School in Anacortes on a Friday morning and the first of several load-ins commenced: dozens of cellos and violins, violas and four enormous upright basses. Drums, guitars, amps and keytars.

Yes keytars. You can’t play “Moving in Stereo” without keytar.

The kids at Island View sat criss-cross applesauce and gaped at the big kids playing rock music in their auditorium as if they had never seen anything like it. To be fair, they probably hadn’t. The kids at Sound View Elementary in Burlington later on that day were pretty wowed, too, but they just sat indian style. Everything is gonna burn. We’ll all take turns…

After destroying a Skagit County Taco Bell, the farty mob boarded a Washington State Ferry bound for Orcas Island—or, as it would come to be known—Orchestra Island. The sun sparkled on the blue water of Rosario Strait, and when the massive white and green boat docked on the other side, the Great Bus lumbered off in the approximate direction of 20 pre-ordered pizzas in Eastsound before proceeding to Moran State Park on “the other  side of the island.”

Camp Moran was a cluster of bunkhouse cabins and a main lodge featuring a commercial-grade kitchen which was completely ignored in favor of box after box of pepperoni pizza, as card games and song circles broke out throughout the sprawling grounds. As the brilliant early summer sun set, Galen the Firebug (cello) was assigned the task of getting the campfire going, and flames leapt high into the mild June evening air until lights out was declared at 10:30 and then again at 11 and 11:25. Someone in Cabin Osprey mumbled in his sleep.

After a breakfast of pastries and yogurt, the bus pulled out of Camp Moran back toward the ferry and a shopping excursion to Friday Harbor where laxatives and dog-bones were procured. Chaperones may or may not have enjoyed a Bloody Mary. Once the headcount confirmed all present, the boat churned away from the dock back toward Orchestra Island and the afternoon’s featured performance at the beautiful Stage on the Green in Eastsound.

That Orcas Island High School would be holding its graduation ceremony that afternoon and that seemingly the entire population of the island would be in attendance on the opposite side of the village could not have been foreseen. Or, you know, it wasn’t. But the orchestra’s motto of play every show like it’s Madison Square Garden came in handy as an inspired performance was turned in under a blazing afternoon sun to six parents and four locals.

“HowyadoinOrcasIsland?!” screamed singer Blackshadow into the mic, overdriving the battery-powered PA to near indistinguishmentism. “IS EVERYBODY HAVIN’ A GOOD TIME?!” The “crowd” seemed to be having a good enough time. If they weren’t, they did not verbalize it. “This next is a song about a monkey!”

With that, the group launched into “Monkey Gone to Heaven.” Bassist Ben Danielson danced on the dry grass in front of the stage before switching instruments with Wallace. Drummer Noah Dunn held a steady beat, swamped by violins. And as The Cars medley wound down with Kaleb Harrison’s smokey sax solo, the crowd nodded their approval before clapping politely and leaving quickly.

Back at Camp Moran, burgers and dogs were barbequed after a dip in the lake and paddle in the canoe. The traditional talent show was held in the lodge, featuring a gratifying variety of talent with no winner declared. As night fell on the camp, the fire was rekindled and the smell of burnt marshmallows filled the air. Without any cell reception at all, the kids were forced to actually look at and talk with each other, and it didn’t take long for this to be accepted as a version of the New or at least Current Normal. Without any artificial light to sabotage them, the stars made their magnificent appearance, presiding over this slice of Earth as the boys in Kingfisher Cabin talked about what a mass drag racing is.

For more information about the band, see Sweet Invicta’s Facebook page.

Published in the July 2015 issue of What’s Up!