By Tim Gardner
One of the highlights in North Carolina High Country musical history happened last week when four of the Boone & Church Band members that includes three Avery County High School students and one Mayland Community College student, won the 95th Annual Future Farmers of America (FFA) National Convention Talent Competition in Indianapolis, Indiana.
A massive crowd of more than 62,000 attended and the Boone & Church Band was the only entry from North Carolina that participated in the talent competition.
The four Boone & Church Band members who met the eligibility of competing in the talent competition by being FFA club members while still attending high school or are under the age of 21, not a college sophomore and still active in the club’s activities at the time of the competition, are two pair of brothers—Ethan and Eli Church and Walker and Jaxton Boone. They decided to enter the 2022 talent competition this past summer. Ethan Church and Walker Boone had entered in 2021 and made it into the Top 10 during that year’s competition. This year, Walker Boone and Ethan Church were able to include their younger brothers, Jaxton Boone and Eli Church, respectively in the talent competition with them since they are currently high school freshmen. The four put together an application including an audition video of their music in July. Then in August, they found out that they were accepted and invited to attend the competition. Thirty-two applicants were invited and participated in the preliminary round in the Indiana Convention Center on Tuesday, October 25.
Fifteen acts moved on to the second round of the competition, which met on the main stage in Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the National Football League’s Indianapolis Colts) on Thursday, October 27. The fifteen were narrowed down to the Top 3 acts for the final round of competition. The final round was also held on the main stage of Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday, October 28 when the Boone & Church Band members triumphed over all entries to capture the talent competition champions crown. The final round was broadcast live on RFD-TV and streamed live online via FFA.org. It marked the second time Boone & Church have appeared on RFD-TV.
Based in Avery County and comprised of three high school students (Eli Church, Ethan Church and Jaxton Boone), one full-time college student (Walker Boone), another recent high school graduate balancing college courses with a full-time job (Colton Boone), plus a father (Lynn Church) who manages the group, the Boone & Church Band has a quality to its music. Each member of the band has an upbeat camp meeting feeling in their singing and instrumentation. And musical versatility is the norm for Boone & Church. Depending on what song the group performs, there is various vocal (from tenor-to lead-to baritone-to bass) and musical instrument switching. Those instruments include banjo, mandolin, rhythm guitar, fiddle, acoustic guitar, lead guitar, upright bass, bass guitar, dobro and piano.
This six-member band travels regularly to church services and also enjoys getting to work fairs and festivals. Its members have been wowing audiences with their music since their formation in 2016, which features good harmonies and accomplished instrumentation. Their innovative skill for blending bluegrass, modern Southern Gospel lyrics and occasionally a few other musical styles into their sound has helped made them one of the most promising newer talents in music circles.
Upon the return home from the FFA National Talent Competition, the Boone & Church Band winners were featured in a parade and escorted by Avery County law enforcement from the North Carolina-Tennessee State Line in Elk Park to Avery High in Newland, where they were attended a special ceremony in their honor in the school’s commons area.
“The support from our community has been overwhelming throughout our existence as a group,” Lynn Church said. “And that’s been especially awesome during the guys winning the FFA National Talent Competition. On behalf of all our group members, we want to say a special thank you to everyone who has supported us in any way, especially with their prayers!
“Special thanks to Tara Andrews and Stephanie Watson, teachers at Avery High, who helped our band’s young guy members in many ways, including videography and performance coaching. We also want to extend special thanks to Avery County High FFA Advisors Dewayne Krege and Gretchen Blackburn for their encouragement and support all along the way during the FFA Talent Competitions last year and this year.
“Most of all, we want to thank our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for allowing these opportunities for the guys to share their music with the world. All of us are having the time of our lives through music.”
Avery County Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman gave ultimate commendation to Ethan and Eli Church and Walker and Jaxton Boone for collectively winning the talent competition through the Boone & Church Band. Brigman said: “We’re very proud of all of our three students and a former student who took the top honors at the National FFA Convention. They’ve represented Avery County High School and Avery County Schools exceptionally well. In addition to being outstanding musicians and singers, each of these young men are excellent role models among their peers and continuously demonstrate the highest level of character. We’re blessed to have students of this caliber representing our student body and school system.”
Winning the FFA National Convention Talent Competition truly was an all-time high, as each of the four Boone & Church Band members who competed and collectively won the championship declared with the following quotes:
Ethan Church: “God has had his hand on what we are doing in Gospel Music ever since we started. It was a great experience winning the FFA and we had lots of fun there doing what we love.”
Walker Boone: “It was an experience of a lifetime. Not everyone gets to do that. To God be the Glory.”
Eli Church: “It is phenomenal doing what we love to do in music. And getting to share bluegrass music to so many new people at the FFA National Convention and winning it was awesome.”
Jaxton Boone: “I really enjoyed playing on the big stage. The convention encouraged me to want to be more included in the FFA and to continue our musical endeavors.”
The Boone family is from the North Cove community near Marion in McDowell County. The Church family is from the Sugar Mountain community near Newland in Avery County. The two families met when the youngest guys in the band were in first grade at Crossnore Elementary School in Avery County.
“We fully believe that God allowed our paths to cross for the purpose of a great friendship and spreading the Gospel of Christ through music,” shared Lynn Church, who plays acoustic guitar for the band.
Walker Boone,18-years old, attends Mayland Community College and is a graduate of Avery County High School. He plays banjo, guitar, and dobro.
Ethan is the oldest Church brother. He is a 17-year-old senior at Avery County High School and President of the Avery County Chapter of FFA. Ethan plays mandolin, upright bass, and guitar.
Eli, the younger Church brother, is a 15-year-old freshman at Avery County High School. He plays fiddle, bass, and guitar.
Jaxton, the youngest Boone brother, is a 14-year-old freshman at Avery County High School. He plays bass, guitar, and mandolin.
Eli and Jaxton are also current members of the Avery County Chapter of the FFA.
Those who know them best will attest that the Boone & Church Band members also live the age-old Gospel truths. Their foremost mission is to bless others and help the lost come to know Jesus Christ. Their personal lives are truly an exemplary reflection of the message they share musically.
While many mainstream Bluegrass music groups have completely live music, some Gospel singing groups are singing or playing their musical instruments at concerts along with canned music-that which contains pre-recorded vocals and instrumentation. Not so with the Boone & Church Band, which features all live music.
Colton Boone, who plays practically every instrument the band uses, is colossally elated about his brothers Walker and Jaxton along with Ethan and Eli Church winning the FFA National Convention Talent Competition, as his following statement attests: “Being with them last week as they competed at, and won, the FFA National Talent Competition is probably one of the best weeks I’ve had in my life. I’m so proud of them and I love them. I’ve had so much fun being part of Boone & Church. We all know that the talent we have comes from the Almighty above.”
The dedication of the Boone & Church Band members to their musical craft is obvious. Their music displays their personal relationship with God as their repertoire continues to grow.
For further information about the Boone & Church Band or to book the group for a concert, call Lynn Church at (828) 467-9506.