AMSTERDAM — Music may have the charms to soothe the savage breast but it also heals. The band Flame is a great example of just how far humans can come when music is the source of their inspiration. All 10 members have some type of disability including autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, blindness or paralysis.
“When they’re on stage, the audience does not hear their disability,” said Maria Nestle, the band’s manager.
Check them out: Flame is performing Saturday as part of the annual Amsterdam Spring Fling, a festival with up to 140 vendors that is put on by the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation.
The band formed 14 years ago after its current lead singer and guitarist, Michelle King, had won a talent contest held at Lexington, an agency that is part of Fulton County NYSARC, an organization dedicated to helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. King wanted to start a band, so Lexington held open auditions. After the band was formed, the group played a state conference in Albany.
“They were as surprised by their own abilities as was the audience,” Nestle said. “And then the phone went off the hook.”
Today, Flame plays up to 70 gigs annually; has produced five compact discs and one single; and has an online store for people to buy a cap, sweatshirt or tote with the Flame logo. The band has been featured on “Good Morning America,” People magazine, and performed at such places as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and House of Blues in Cleveland, Harvard University’s Law School, Greece’s Parthenon, and at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Idaho. At the end of this month, Flame heads to Carpi, Italy to perform in the 19th International Festival of Different Abilities.
“That’s a special request,” Nestle said. “They found us on YouTube and on our website (www.flametheband.com) and said, ‘We have to have you.’ ”
The band includes a lead singer/guitarist, drummer/vocalist, bass guitarist, two conga players, one dancer, and four backup singers. There are two stagecrew. Every one of the band’s members has a story. Here are just four. King was diagnosed with autism at age 3 and doctors did not think she’d ever really be able to communicate. But she started singing at age 4 and today she not only musically communicates with her audiences, she regularly gives speeches at conferences and seminars.
Drummer David Lagrange, who also came up with the name for the band, is blind and has a learning disability. But he has an intuitive musical sense and as one of the group’s four backup vocalists is a great harmonizer. He’s been playing drums since he was 14.
Scott Stuart may be blind and has cerebral palsy but he’s provided lead vocals on some of Flame’s most popular tunes. And bass Nick Robinson, who also serves as the group’s music adviser, had played the Los Angeles band scene until the 1990s when an illness left his legs paralyzed and he had to relearn how to play bass.
Although the band has a song list of 100 classic rock, pop, country and blues songs, none of them read music except for Robinson. So they learn them by ear, which usually takes about two weeks.
Then they rehearse at Gloversville’s Paul Nigra Center for Creative Arts where they work weekly with their music coordinator Vinny Saj, a guitarist/singer.
Flame is funded through their gigs, grants, donations and support from the Lexington Center.
WHERE: Main Street Spring Fling, Amsterdam
WHEN: 2 p.m., Saturday, May 20
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 518-661-9932