Day 8, June 20th

Cole - beachChris - wavesToday was a full day as expected.  The boys got  to FINALLY swim in the ocean. For some, it was their first time.  The wind was breezy, and the air was slightly humid.  Overall the day weather was beautiful for ocean swimming. As you could see from the video I posted earlier today, the boys were throughly enjoying the morning…except for the water’s saltiness. Roman found out, “That water does not taste good”, but he wasn’t discouraged by it.

Ben - lunch (1)For lunch, the boys ate at a restaurant called Long Doggers: Radically Relaxed Grill, and it was radically relaxed.  The smiling tattooed wait staff were so nice, chill, and extremely accommodating for our little “groms”.  I saw that charming term in the kids section of the menu.  It’s Californian slang for a young surfer, mostly for ones under the age of 15 and of respectable skill.  I think this is going to replace “padawan”.  The wait staff never called them “groms” but they certainly respected the boys’ behavior.  One of them stopped by the staff table and asked “How do you keep them so well-behaved? Beat them.”  We said “Yes, and shock collars and brainwashing.”  No, that’s not true. The boys are well-behaved because that’s what they do.  That’s what makes them extraordinary. At meal’s end, they were given jolly ranchers and freeze pops for dessert.  Thanks, Long Doggers. When the boys were in bus, ready to leave, Stewart was stopped by the deputy fire chief who was eating lunch in the same restaurant.  He loved seeing the boys, and said that he was a choir boy.  He sang with an Orlando-based choir in his youth.

Connor - guns (1)Long Doggers gave our groms nourishment for the rest of day spent at Kennedy Space Center.  We arrived around 2pm, and started our visit with a bus tour. Our guide Brad told the boys about the Vehicle Assembly Building and other incredible facilities while he drove us to the Apollo/Saturn V Center.  There the boys learned about the Apollo missions through a couple short movies and saw a real Saturn V rocket.  The bus returned us all to the main area, but in transit the boys got to see their first alligators of tour.  The Kennedy Space Center “shares a common boundary” with the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge.  They were floating in a nearby inlet.

Evan taking a pixOur next stop was the Atlantis exhibit.  They showed a couple short movies about Atlantis, and as the second movie ended the screen lifted to show the real Atlantis Space Shuttle within an immense, multi-storied interactive exhibit.  Atlantis was epic, and filled the whole space with command.  Around it and under it were several activities the boys participated in. They crawled around inside a replica of the International Space Station (ISS).  They slid down a giant slide mimicking the glide degree Atlantis needed for re-entry.  They also found a whole room of flight simulators.  The last thing for the boys was a spectacular movie in the Imax theater: A Beautiful Planet.  It told us about what it was like to live in the ISS and look down on Earth in its stunning vastness.

We spent much of our day Kennedy Space Center.  It was 7pm by the time we left for dinner: pizza at the hotel.  The boys had to finish their letters, and get settled in their rooms before coming over to my and Aaron’s room for some blog reading and a story about starfish.

The Starfish Story: one step towards changing the world

They’ve enjoyed a couple days off, and now they get back into the swing of things with a concert in Lakeland tomorrow. On our way we’ll stop by Jungle Adventures. THERE they’ll see many more alligators.

Thank you all for reading.  Goodnight.


Day 7, June 19

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there.  We have three on tour with us.

Ethan - busThe boys didn’t have host families last night so they stayed in the hotel with the staff. When they have hotel stays after concerts the evenings get late. So when we checked them in they were sent straight to bed.  They had to get up early as well; to sing at two church services.  Braeden wasn’t happy with it at breakfast, “Why are we up so early? Tell Camden to get a snooze button.”

On the ride to the church, Roman got time on the mic as Officer of the Day. After his weather man duties, he gave his Quote of the Day: “Do or do not; there is no try.” His Word of the Day was “Animation”, and chose “Here Comes the Sun” as his Song of the Day.

10-45 service - sanctuaryWesley United Methodist has about five Sunday services. The boys sang at their 9:00am and 10:45am services. For the first service they sang a four-song Prelude.  Between services Aaron a chance to rehearse them for an hour. It was good to spend focused time on problem spots in their songs. I gotta say the boys sounded great this morning. Aaron mentioned that he’s noticed through his hundred years of experience that some choirs are morning choirs and some are better in the evening. This choir is a morning choir. You could tell at the services. Their sound was better blended and their energy was at its highest…except for the occasional “yawners”.  For the second service their songs were divided between the Prelude and the Offertory. They got to sit through a Methodist-style service which some of them had never experienced.

Jack, Keegan, Gus, Roman - singing 10-45amThe people of WUM were very appreciative after both services.  One lady greeted me with a choral conductor’s question, “how do YOU cut off an ‘s’?”  I came to find out she was a retired vocal music teacher from North Carolina, and very complimentary of the boys.  Another lady soon interjected in our conversation, “I had never heard a boy choir before”.  Also, Aaron chatted with the president of a local college.  The gentleman used to be in the military, and his comments “reinforced the importance of our program”, said Aaron.

Dono - mid kickThe service ended around 12pm, and the boys were hungry. The church prepared some lunches for us, and we found a municipal park on the island not too far away.  When we arrived, Stewart noticed a baseball field.  He immediately grabbed a soccer ball, hoping to start a game of kick ball after lunch.  Chris organized the game.  The Chicken Wangs and Wonton Soup engaged in a friendly competition of kickball skill. Evan and Alex called the game, with Evan serving as color commentator.  Up in the tower behind home plate, they attracted a gang of hecklers.  Together they nicknamed several of the players: Cole Miner, Loui Armstrong, Nick-olas Cage, Roman Empire, Reece-pect, Dan-iamond, Sir Isaac Newton, Alex-ir, Will.I.Am, Do-na-veen, Jo-jo Fry, Fos-zy Bear, Vander Heyden Horse, Concussion Rifle, Christian Tristiaansen, E-Luhmanati, Ethan-ol, Crop Gus-ter, and Lizard Boy.  Wonton Soup were the victors, and Stewart had the boys shake hands.  For some boys this was the first time they experienced a “good game” line.

Sam G, Luke - up to batThey all kicked the dust off their feet and returned to the bus; The Chicken WangsWonton Soup, and the heckler gang needed to continue their journey to Cocoa Beach.  They wrote in their journals and completed letters to parents and family.  Rest period was much, and lasted until we crossed the Florida state line.  It was pouring rain outside with 18mph winds.  Unaffected by the weather, the rejuvenated boys started to sing “It’s raining, it’s pouring.  The old man is snoring”.  Luke - bus

Charlie and Camden got us to Cocoa Beach around 6:30pm.  Dinner was at a nearby restaurant called Backwoods Steakhouse.  Soon after the wait staff served drinks and took entree orders, they found out the boys weren’t a baseball team.  They found they were serving a boy choir.  The assisting manager made sure the boys knew they needed to “sing for their food”.  Aaron and the boys happily obliged.  Their sound filled the restaurant as they sang “Saints Bound for Glory”.  Dinner was great and filling.Group - before dinner

To cap off the night, Stewart led the boys to the beach, breezy and moonlit.  This was an exhilarating experience for the boys who hadn’t been to the ocean before.  The wind was strong.  The waves were crashing against the shore.  They were all happy!

Tomorrow brings beach time in the sunshine and a trip to the Kennedy Space Center.  We’ll be sure to lather them up with sunscreen and make sure they buy their family great souvenirs.  :0)


Day 6, June 18th

Tristan W with hostThe boys got to sleep in a bit this morning.  We didn’t need to leave for St. Simon’s Island until 10:00am. We made a Walmart stop; and while Stewart and Aaron went in with a couple boys, Camden handed out mail.  It was an exciting morning for the boys.  We hadn’t handed out mail for awhile and almost everyone got something from family.  Each boy’s face light up when he received a letter.  Isaac got the most by a landslide.  Right now if you asked him, he’d brag about getting FIFTEEN “swirlies”.

Keegan reading mailWhen a boy gets an item in the mail, that’s all cool, and the rest of the boys don’t respond.  But when someone receives two pieces of mail, the boys respond with an ascending siren sound “oooOOO”.  THEN if a boys receives a third item, they chant “Swirly, swirly, swirly”.  Sometimes a boy will receive more than three items, and the boys add “swirlies” to each item received i.e. “Doube swirly” or “Triple swirly”.  By end of today, Isaac was up to “Sextuple Swirly, sextuple swirly, sextuple swirly”, which totals fifteen swirlies he’s received for tour so far. (And we’re not even half way done).  He was beaming from ear to ear. Alex with mail

It was a shorter drive to St. Simon’s Island today, so the boys slept most of the time.  While the boys were asleep I announced on Facebook that we were going to broadcast a portion of Gus with mousethe boys’ concert through Facebook Live.  After setting up risers, eating dinner (fajitas and tacos), and a rehearsal, the boys got on stage in the beautiful sanctuary of Wesley United Methodist Church.  I let them sing a couple songs before I started the live feed.  Just when Joey introduced the next set, the feed started.  Twenty-four viewers from the world wide web watched the boys perform “Gloria”, “Psalm 8”, and “Far Away”.   It seemed to go fairly well, and everyone appreciated it.  I’ll plan to do it again next week, and I’ll let everyone know more in advance.
IMG_0452It’s getting hotter here in the South, and the boys are starting to feel it.  A few of them are feeling run down so we’ll be watching over them as we progress more south.  Their safety and health is our number one priority.  The sanctuary was toasty tonight but the boys did an extraordinary job. Aaron challenged them to be animated with their faces, and several of them shined bright like a diamond.  Although they were feeling fatigued, our seemingly ordinary boys did another extraordinary thing by keeping their spirits up on stage and giving the great people of Wesley United Methodist a beautiful concert with animated faces.  They will hear the boys again tomorrow for their church services at 9:00am an 10:45am.

After the services we travel to the highly anticipated Cocoa Beach where at least 9 boys will experience the ocean for the first time.  Exciting!


Rehearsal - behind the boys


Day 5, June 17th

Good evening, everyone.  Today was a slightly uneventful day on the bus as we headed to Macon, GA.

Caleb - cardsThe boys kept busy with their usual go-to’s.  Ethan organized a Texas Hold ‘Em game in the back with Caleb, Ben and Suojanen.  Daniel returned with Joey, Evan, and Nick in (what I call) the Dragon’s Den.  They’ve been playing D&D since we started tour. Of course many of the boys took to their devices.  You could hear them chattering back and forth, talking about creatures they’ve created and powers they’ve invented for their avatars.

Joey - busEvery day is like this on the bus, but there are things we do every day that are always fun for the boys.  I mentioned earlier I tell them interesting facts and dumb laws about states.  Aaron takes his turn on the mic with concert reviews.  He consults “international judges” after every concert and he reports back with their scores.  Today though, Aaron wanted to play their recording from Mammoth Cave.  The boys had heard there were people crying on Facebook over the recording, so they were curious to hear it.  Chris again hosted his Bus Trivia.  He really stumped the boys today with “How do you spell Tristan Suojanen’s last name?”  It took awhile for the boys to figure it out.  Braeden was selected as Officer of the Day.  His Quote of the Day was “Be like Joey”.  I wonder who put him up to that?  His Word of the Day was “Safety”, and for the Song of  the Day he chose “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.

Daniel - pointing

For lunch Aaron found a Shoney’s in Dalton GA.  It was a normal lunch.  At staff meeting tonight we all mentioned how well they do with lunch.  Besides the reminders to keep their napkins on their laps and both feet on the floor, they’re an impressive group of extraordinary boys this year.  Lunch times go pretty smoothly, and the wait staff is always commenting their extraordinary behavior.  Today, they gave us a 10% discount because the boys were so well-behaved.

Evan - busIt rained on the way to Macon, so when we arrived it wasn’t too hot.  The high was supposed to be 99 degrees, but it didn’t feel like it.  It was a tight schedule when we got to Macon.  The traffic in Atlanta slowed us down significantly, which I guess is a thing. Evan even noticed the delay, “How is it that we can’t go a day without hitting rush hour traffic?”  So the boys had very little time to eat before a brief logistical rehearsal.  The concert started at 7:30pm.

Sam A - busThe sanctuary at St, Joseph Catholic was gorgeous, as you can see in the featured image of the blog: magnificent, colorful, and acoustically friendly for the boys.  They sounded wonderful in it.  The patrons love the concert, and had been looking forward to the concert for weeks. The Choirboys had been to St. Joseph twice before so they were anxious to hear the boys’ renowned singing. They had a lot of great questions during the Q&A as well.  Someone asked “Has the air conditioning ever gone out on the bus?”  One of the boys from last year’s tour jumped on that one right away. ” Yes…it got so hot we were able to stick [playing] cards to our chest.” Someone else in the audience asked, ” Does it bother you to be away from home?” After several sometimes’ and kind-of’s, Connor blatantly said ” No.”  He’s the honest one. Jake answered a good question asking what the boys liked about home stays, “I like it when they don’t lock you in the basement and say ‘goodnight'”.

Although getting to the concert in a timely manner proved difficult, the day ended very well.  The boys are staying with host families tonight, and will be enjoying a little longer morning with them tomorrow.  We have a short trip to Saint Simons Island, GA for a concert at Wesley Methodist Church…then, Cocoa Beach!

Concert - side view




Day 4, June 16th

Tristan C - bus bayThis morning our beloved boys woke up with touseled hair to a traditional Best Western breakfast: eggs, bacon, yogurt, and even Nutella.  We left around 8:45am for our tour of Churchill Downs.  The boys got a chance to walk through the Kentucky Derby Museum for a few minutes before the tour of the racetrack and plaza.  They immediately found the virtual racing where they raced each other side-by-side on stationary miniature thoroughbreds.  Braeden found personal satisfaction when he made everyone eat his dust.  Isaac had a great time too, so focused and intent.  Isaac - horsing around

After roughly a half hour the boys were led to the racetrack where our tour guide told them all about the Derby, the horses, and millions of dollars invested in “the greatest race in the world”.  At the same time the boys could watch a few horses warming up on the track.  A young potential winner by the name of Headliner even took some time out of his morning jog to greet the boys.  Gus couldn’t get over how cute (I mean) big his nose was. 😉  Having said goodbye to Headliner, the boys moved to the plaza where they learned a little more about the history of Churchill Downs.  They also learned about the famous Triple Crown winner Secretariat.  This highly intelligent horse had a 22-pound heart which contributed significantly to his renowned success.  (A normal horse’s heart only weighs approximately 8.5 lbs)  After a 20-minute movie about the extraordinary Kentucky Derby, the boys topped off their Churchill Downs experience by extraordinarily singing around the 360º theater.  Ben - Derby Museum

Lunch was at Golden Corral where everyone successfully ate their prerequisite salads.  No pepperoni piles on one leaf of romaine in this group.  The staff was happy about that.  Last year’s favorite dessert of chocolate fondue was over-shadowed by cotton candy; however, Sam Anderson found particular delight in the fondue again.  The wait staff loved having the boys there.  Aaron received at least four compliments while they ate.  Ordinary boys doing extraordinary things.

Jake, Louis, Jack, Luke, Reece - caveMammoth Cave was a cool experience; and I DO mean cool.  Throughout tour the weather’s been pleasantly humid and toasty, but when we arrived to Mammoth Cave, the 400-miles of cavern were breathing a refreshingly algid breeze.  We all walked 2 miles in 2 hours through paths lit with flood lamps.  At one point our tour guide, Ranger Cindy, turned off all the lights.  It was pitch black.  You couldn’t see your hand if it was right in front of your face.  With the lights off she continued to tell us more about the awesome Mammoth Cave.  It was still pitch black when she jokingly added, “we’re going to continue with the tour.  If any of you have questions, just raise your hand.”  Many laughed, but when she turned the lights on Aaron noticed a few boys literally had their hands raised. 🙂 The deepest we got in the cavern was 310 feet, and then we started to ascend.  Ranger Cindy thanked us all and the boys stayed while the rest of the group left.  How could a choir NOT sing in such a great acoustic space?!  The boys ended their visit at Mammoth Cave with a reverberant “Ave Maria” (see audio file).  Ranger Bob got to hear them. The boys thanked him for letting them stay a little longer.

Going to Mammoth Cave

Louis - Mammoth Cave











Tonight the boys are sleeping soundly in a Best Western near the airport in Nashville.  Tomorrow they cross into Eastern Time Zone to head to Macon, GA for concert #3 in St. Joseph Catholic church.

Group - Churchill Downs




Day 3, June 15th

Throughout tour I’ve been trying to chat with host families as they arrive with boys. In Niles, Cole and Roman’s “mom” told me during their ride they were listening to some music.  She asked them what they liked to listen to. She was impressed with their responses: The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel.  She told them “you have old souls”.  They asked why, and she said it’s because they listen to older music.  I know I’ve mentioned Keegan and Jack before but I touched base with their host “grandma” for a bit as well.  Lois hadn’t hosted our boys ever before, but in the past she’d hosted students from across the world.  She enjoyed it and took pride in becoming their “grandma” away from home.  She didn’t get to host the last time LOLCB were in Niles. She enjoyed hosting Jack and Keegan.  It was also a good moment for Keegan; it turned out that Lois’ maiden name was Wagner, exactly the same his Mom’s maiden name.  I also got a chance to talk with the host mom of Luke and Joey. She told me she learned that gummy bears are good for bargaining.  She was tickled by the idea of “food bargaining”, and told me she gave the boys some things with “bargaining power”.

ReeceDonovan, Tristan S - selfieToday was a travel day, our final destination: New Albany IN. It was a longer trip but the boys made good of their time.  Daniel and crew commandeered the back of the bus to play Dungeons and Dragons, while the majority of boys found their portable devices to play games.  Jack was the Officer of the Day, and he inspired us with this Quote of the Day: “If you make mistakes it means you’re trying.”  “Participation” was his Word of the Day, and he chose Zach Sobiech’s “Clouds” as his Song of the Day.  Chris came up front to host Bus Trivia again.  This time he chose more difficult questions: 1) What’s the sum of the each opposite side of dice?  2) What’s the highest possible score you could get in gymnastics? 3) Name the famous large clock in London.

Nick, Tristan W - Rest areaBecause of the length of time in the bus, Stewart let the boys watch “Zootopia”; however, he was a bit disappointed they didn’t choose the best movie of all time “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope”.  Isaac our Mail Man got a chance to account for all the boys’ letters to home, plus gather Father’s Day letters.  He was also the winner of the coveted “Triple Swirly” for receiving the most letters in a day. I have a feeling he’ll be winning that award often.Luke with Stewart's Root Beer

We arrived in New Albany around 6:00pm Eastern Time, and we had our first dining out experience together.  We ate at the Cracker Barrel (because no one had ever been there before. ‘wink’), and the boys got a chance to sing for the service staff and patrons.  Tonight they sang “Saints Bound for Heaven”.  They sounded great, and everyone was grateful.  The service staff raved about the boys before and after they sang, “so well behaved”.

Braeden poolThe boys were excited to get to the pool tonight.  Stewart and Camden jumped in with them.  There was always someone who wanted me to video or “slo-mo” their jumps.

Tomorrow we head to Churchill Downs and the Mammoth Caves.


Day 2, June 14th

Keegan at bus


First-time Tourers arrived at the bus this morning, having experienced their first home-stay. Tristan Wellman stayed with fellow newbies Jack and Keegan. They were hosted by Resurrection’s youth minister. I got a chance to chat with her while the rest of the boys were arriving.  Last night she asked them about contacting their parents throughout tour, and they said “they make us do it the old-fashioned way”.  She learned the only contact they have with parents and family is via handwritten letters. She then asked them if they ever got homesick, and the reply was “I just don’t think about it”.  Later, while the boys were in bed they asked if they could have a night light. It must’ve been pitch black in their room. She said “you never think about that” when you’re hosting a boy.  It’s a touch of home they can have while away.


William aka Will.I.Am

So,yes, the First-timers had their first home-stay ever but this was also the first home-stay of tour for everyone. In the bus to Niles IL, Stewart asked about their stays.  Jack immediately told us that his family had a golden retriever and it licked him and his roomies in the middle of the night. Ethan was happy about the blueberry pancakes he had for breakfast, AND that he got to speak Spanish throughout the evening. His host “mom” was a Spanish teacher. Luke told us he had to sleep in a pink Mini Mouse room.  Donovan and his partner found out that Woodstock had historical significance with the Underground Railroad.

Aaron took some time to review last night’s concert. He was very happy with it; said they sounded like a choir that had been singing their repertoire for three or four concerts. He reminded them they had only sung one so far.

Tristan S, chicken man

Chicken man!

Every day of every tour, Stewart selects an Officer of the Day. Today Louis got the honor. Over the PA system, Louis told the boys of the day’s schedule. They were to drive to Niles IL for a 7:00pm concert.  He also selected a Quote of the Day, courtesy of Connor Vander Heyden: “Always have the pride of an eagle and the wisdom of an owl”.  Louis’ Word of the Day was “Confidence” and he punctuated it by playing  his Song of the Day, “We Will Rock You” by Queen.

Typically on tour  I announce when we cross state line, and tell the boys interesting facts about the new state. Today we didn’t leave Illinois, so Chris Hess volunteered to host a bit of bus trivia. Before tour he prepared a small booklet of trivia. I’ll share with you his questions; perhaps you’ll know the answers. (You can’t use Google until you’ve guessed)

1.What are the three colors of the Olympic rings?

2.What is the world’s hardest mineral?

3.Who cut off the ear of famous painter Vincent Van Gogh?

This is a new addition to the tours I’ve been on, and it’s a welcome change. Thanks, Chris.

Roman Sky High

“This is on my bucket list.”

Dodge Ball #3Many of you parents know this next thing, but the boys didn’t. Aaron surprised them with a trip to Sky High Sports, a sports facility specifically fitted with trampolines. The boys (and the staff) jumped around in a foam pit, a dodgeball enclosure, and a “Main Court”.  They spent two hours huffing and puffing, tossing dodgeballs and themselves through the air.  Even the boys who needed to take a break found other things to do. Sam Anderson didn’t need bubble wrap to play a game of pool with Alex Hansen; and a few adventuresome gentlemen discovered the hurricane tunnel.  [two pictures, one in concert outfits, the other playing at Sky High, caption: “Ordinary boys doing extraordinary things”

Tonight’s concert was sung at the familiar St. John Brebeuf Catholic Church in Niles IL. We were here last year. The sanctuary was vibrantly acoustic for the boys as they introduced two more songs in their repertoire. They keep getting better with every space they sing in.   After the concert they enjoyed an ice cream sundae with a generous people of St. John Brebeuf Catholic church.

    Joey, Luke - with host family  

Day 1, June 13th


Starting the tour!

Starting the tour!

Mmm bacon.

Mmm bacon.

Here begins the 40th tour of the Land of Lakes Choirboys. Welcome All to the first blog post.  Today we set sail from Elk River Lutheran church to Woodstock, Illinois.  With a plentiful smorgasbord of breakfast delights, the boys gathered around 7am to eat, pack final items, take pictures, and see their loved ones off.

First-time tourers spent the morning getting orientated to the excitement around them.  On the bus I asked them what they were mostly looking forward to.  Cole, Connor, and Sam Griepp were all excited about swimming at Florida’s Cocoa Beach. While Keegan, Jack and Gus were enthusiastic about conquering the world’s scariest roller coasters at Six Flags in St. Louis.  Isaac too was looking forward to Six Flags but he was mostly eager to explore the National Civil War Naval Museum.  I didn’t get to ask Tristan Wellman what he was mostly looking forward to, so you all will just need to stay tuned for tomorrow.
IsaacCaleb laughing

While getting from newbies their thoughts on tour, I also asked if a couple veterans would give them some advice.  “Take good pictures”.  “Don’t forget anything in your host home”.  They’re so wise.





Ethan, Jake, Cole, looking at cardsCharlie with boys close-up








If you weren’t at the send-off, you didn’t see that Charlie came back to drive for the boys again.  After tonight’s concert, Aaron introduced him to the audience. The boys roared with applause.  He’s well-loved and respected.  We’re grateful to have him back.

Roman, Connor, Cole, gentlemen

Tonight’s concert went very well.  The boys shared their stage time with the Encore Touring Choir under the very competent direction of Ann Tucker and Kim Sherrer.  After a half hour of Encore’s great singing, the boys took stage for their first tour performance.  It was very well-received from the first ringing of the hand chimes to the last bow of “Thank You Very Much”.  According to Aaron, there WAS one complaint from a local music teacher. ” You needed to bring tissues.  I cried the whole time”.  That’s a complaint we’ll take as a compliment.  🙂

Concert at Resurrection Catholic Church (1)

2016 Tour Approaches!

We depart June 13th! Look for more details here on the LOLCB Tour Blog!

Here’s the packing list.