During the day-to-day, most people in McLean County may know the Stokes family in their respective roles in the school district.
David Stokes has been the chief finance officer for McLean County Public Schools for 18 years, while his wife Gretchen Stokes is the instructional coach at McLean County Middle School, and their children — daughters Kaydence, 13 and Kiersten, 8 and son J.T., 11 — are active in sports and other extracurricular activities.
But when the school day is out and no practices are scheduled, David Stokes and the kids get a chance to head downstairs into the basement of their Calhoun home and bond over music; a pastime that has been important to the family of five.
“Mom and Dad have taken us to concerts since we were babies,” Kiersten Stokes said.
And now it’s become another part of their lives as the collective unit as The Stokes Family Band.
The origins of how the band came about began in 2020 and “clicked” rather quickly.
“I used to play in a band with one of my best friends, and he had written a Christmas song,” David Stokes said. “…He passed away a couple of years ago, so we decided to record his song and play it on Christmas Eve. …Our church played it during COVID (during a virtual service).”
Kaydence, Kiersten and J.T. Stokes were all familiar with playing an instrument and used the time during the height of the coronavirus pandemic to learn a second instrument.
“…We’ve kept learning more and more instruments, and just having fun together,” David Stokes said. “We weren’t running around for sports, and spending a lot of time at church had slowed down ….”
Gretchen Stokes said Kaydence, Kiersten and J.T. Stokes stayed home for the year after the schools went back to in-person sessions, and used the time efficiently and all eventually have become multi-instrumentalists.
“They’d do schoolwork; and as a part of their schoolwork, every day they had some kind of practice that we required them to do,” she said.
“That was part of their daily routines,” David Stokes said. “(They) would have a certain amount of time on some form of musical instrument, and once they got good at one, we moved onto another one.”
“It gave us more time to practice,” Kaydence Stokes said.
Over one year later, the group made its first live debut at the Galt House in Louisville and played four to five songs for over 500 people.
The band made a good first impression on both the crowd and themselves.
“I was a little nervous at first, but I was really excited and I was really proud of myself,” Kaydence Stokes said.
“I felt really good,” J.T. Stokes said. “It made us feel famous, because everyone was trying to take pictures with us.”
“I felt proud,” Kiersten Stokes said. “I felt grown up and excited.”
Since then, the band has played throughout the county at different events including the opening day of MCPS, McLean County Public Library’s Fall Festival, Livermore Fall Trails Day and Harvest Church of Calhoun’s Rumsey Bible Club’s “Rockin’ Rumsey” event, bringing a mix of different genres to the crowds with material ranging from Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles and Janis Joplin.
One of the appeals of the band is that each performer on stage takes turns playing different roles.
“We’re all over the place,” J.T. Stokes said.
“We like to play a song and then we all switch instruments,” David Stokes said. “What we’re working on now is switching instruments in the middle of a song.”
Being able to work together collectively in this capacity has been easy.
“We’re in tune,” David Stokes said.
And even though Gretchen Stokes doesn’t play an instrument in the group, she is still very much an integral part of the experience.
“We’ve got Mom in the background (making) sure … we don’t forget to eat, making sure we get all of our gear and helps us pack everything and makes sure that everything gets done well behind-the-scenes, too.”
“It makes me proud to see them form such a bond with their dad, and be able to play music and spend time together,” Gretchen Stokes said.
For the future ahead, the group is looking to expand beyond McLean County and play some events in the region such as PorchFest OBKY while also bringing original music into the repertoire and expanding to a wider audience.
“We’re negotiating for a show in Louisville coming up,” David Stokes said. “… I don’t know if we’re ready to record an album or anything like that, but I think we’re looking to start a YouTube channel and record shorts for Instagram … and start that whole process to get some stuff out there.”
But regardless of where the band ends up, the members are happy being able to do something they enjoy.
“…It gets you pumped up,” J.T. Stokes said.
“I just love doing it,” Kaydence Stokes said. “Every time I go down (to the basement), I feel happier after I’ve played. It makes me feel a lot better.”