When Vincent Burkardt created the Youth Leadership Music Project, he didn’t know it would become a full-time gig.
“I started it through a community-funded project, a local Kickstarter thing,” Burkardt said.
Burkardt said the goal was to teach leadership skills to students by giving them performance opportunities and instructing them in social media promotion and stage presence and the details of what makes a musician a true performer. The project also allows this first tier of students to build community by becoming mentors to other youth.
The success of the program has taken it on the road, from shows around town in its home of Fort Collins to live performances this weekend in Summit County. Members of Burkardt’s Youth Leadership Music Project comprise the opening acts for the Madam Sin show at The Barkley Ballroom on Saturday, Nov. 16.
The project grew out of weekly live music shows that Burkardt hosts and produces on KRFC 88.9, where youth musicians perform and have conversations about their music between the songs. Burkardt is starting his fifth year at the Fort Collins radio station, which means he’s put about 200 original shows on air thus far. He also has a similar program on a local cable channel that he’s been hosting and co-producing for three years.
“It’s kind of been growing, the trust and relationship with parents and with the youth, and giving them the respect and giving them space to create is kind of what I’ve been doing in various places,” Burkardt said. “The quality of music is so good. If you turned your back, you wouldn’t say this person is a junior in high school. It’s really good music, and it’s dynamic.
“A lot of elements came in with me kind of becoming a mentor or sorts, of giving a light touch, not heavy handed. It’s more like being observant and being there, if they need water or whatever comes up. Just being there as a support, and I realized that with the feedback that I get, I’m kind of the right person to do this.”
The turning point in Burkardt’s youth music programs was producing live shows in Old Town Square this summer in Fort Collins.
“We had over 100 hours of amplified music, which I coordinated,” he said. “It was three days a week, and when I started this, I realized I had to jump into this full time. I had some savings, but I quit my full-time job. I felt like there was enough community support that I wasn’t going to starve.”
Burkardt himself is not a musician, but he can recognize good music when he hears it.
“I have kind of been working on these youths for a couple of years with each of them and thought highly of them and wanted them specifically to be part of this project. I found them fun to work with,” he said. “And when you work with these musicians, what’s so interesting is you’re building a system and building community. You have the parents, siblings, friends, siblings’ friends, grandparents — this built-in structure. Other families get to know each other; they come to a show and support each other. Siblings and friends see this opportunity, and it can be inspiring to them, as well.”
The student musicians in the Youth Leadership Music Project freshman class are very collaborative, Burkardt said.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie and focus on the music,” he said. “I’m not trying to make stars. … It’s not necessarily a goal because the skills they can learn through working with coordination with music venues, being out in front of the public and being able to do their art in front of the public in various places — I’ve seen a lot of that as far as their confidence as individuals.
“To give talented youth musicians space to create, various opportunities, a built-in support system — I’m here for them, and we can learn together. Through the arts, we are seeing these youth become young leaders in their own right, and we’re seeing this happen in some really remarkable ways.”