In step...

Members of the PikeView High School Marching Band take the field for competition during the Class AA division of the 5th Annual Princeton Senior High School Band Southern Thunder Invitational Saturday. Fourteen bands from West Virginia and Virginia participated in the event.

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Southern Thunder 5 was smoking hot Saturday afternoon, and not only because of a near-record high temperature of 83 degrees.

A pair of smoking hot solos on “House of the Rising Sun” by both Josef Heller on trumpet from Shady Spring High School and Shawn Cochran on trombone from Bluefield High School put a Delta-style sway into their band mates and the crowd of several hundred people in the Hunnicutt Stadium stands on a beautiful fall afternoon in Mercer County.

The Princeton Middle School Band performed the National Anthem, followed by 13 bands in the competition and the Princeton Senior High School Band that performed an exhibition. Four Class AAA bands competed in Southern Thunder, including Capital and Point Pleasant high schools from West Virginia and Pulaski and Nelson County high schools from Virginia.

Five Class A schools competed including Wyoming East, Shady Spring, Bluefield, River View and James Monroe high schools, all from West Virginia. There were four Class AA high schools in the mix as well including Lebanon, Tazewell and Giles high schools, all from Virginia and PikeView High School from West Virginia.

The bands delivered emotional performances. Although their football teams may have been competitors on Friday night, the band parents and music lovers in the stands responded to the performances vigorously without a single consideration of the color of the uniforms or the emblems on their sleeves.

“I know all of the band parents from Shady Spring are like family,” Kristi Heller said immediately after her son, Josef delivered an incredible solo performance on “House of the Rising Sun.” “The band parents sell concessions at the games as a fundraiser, so we were all out Friday night at the game. Now, we’re all out here at Southern Thunder.”

While Kristi’s husband, Bryan, went to purchase a video of Shady’s performance, she explained how Josef discovered a love of music just by chance when he was in fifth grade in a different school system. “He plays several instruments,” she said. “I think band helps all kids become better students. Josef is still athletic, and he plays spring sports, but he really enjoys band.”

That family connection even extends beyond the schools. “Our band director, Timmy Fama is married to the Princeton Middle School Band Director, Crista Fama,” Kristi Heller said. “It’s like a family.”

The crowd of 600 to 650 were treated to some incredible performances, including an exhibition performance by the Princeton Senior High School Band. PSHS Director Julie Kade was hamming it up for the school photographer using props at “Thunder Village” a “metafiscal” experience that was among the attractions at Southern Thunder 5 — The Perfect Storm.

“We’re only doing an exhibition tonight, so I can do this,” Kade said with a smile.

— Contact Bill Archer at

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