On a chilly Friday night at the Roots ‘N Blues ‘N BBQ festival, the big-name music acts ruled the crowded stages in and around Peace Park. People flocked from all around Missouri to purchase $18 tickets and stand shoulder-to-shoulder to see some well-known acts light up the stage.
About 100 feet outside the festival barricades, in front of the CenturyLink building, a father-son duo was putting on an equally magical show free of charge.
The father introduced them as The Bubbas, but the eyes of the crowd were all focused on his 12-year-old son pounding out drum fills like a professional twice his age. The pair was busking for the son’s college fund, and the crowd was eating it up.
The Bubbas, composed of Patrick Henry and his sons John-Michael — now in college — and Christian, have been doing classic rock covers for seven years. Christian began showing interest in the drums almost immediately after developing basic motor skills at the age of two. Patrick, who sang in a band 20 years ago, began playing guitar to accompany his son's drumming.
By the time Christian was 5 years old — and John-Michael 11 years old — The Bubbas were already playing public shows. From school variety shows to a performance at the Grand Ballroom in the Chicago Hilton to an opening act for The Beach Boys, The Bubbas slowly made a name for themselves around Columbia and beyond.
Like at Roots ‘N Blues, Christian continues to attract the most attention. Describing himself as more of a “safety net” or “security blanket” for Christian, Patrick said his sons are quickly developing their skills and have long surpassed his own talent level.
“I’ve taken them as far as I can, because I’m limited by my musical abilities,” Patrick said. “How do I get him with musicians that are of his caliber, so he can get better and better, rather than hitting a glass ceiling?”
Christian’s musical talents are both instrumental and vocal, playing nine instruments and also helping to sing for The Bubbas. While rattling off his instrument list, Patrick had to remind him of three or four additional instruments he casually forgot.
In addition to vocals and drums, he’s also skilled in flute, keyboard, alto sax, tenor sax, mandolin, harmonica, bass and guitar.
It’s one thing to have the talent at such a young age to command such an expansive musical array, but Christian is fluent in charm and charisma as well. His smooth presence dwarfs that of a normal 12-year-old. Aside from Christian’s boyish tone, anyone talking to him on the phone wouldn’t gauge him any younger than 18 years old.
Christian said he doesn’t normally get nervous in front of big crowds.
“I see the people’s faces, and they like (the music),” Christian said. “I like it, because they know our songs. They sing with us, they clap, they dance. I’ve never really been afraid.”
Despite the moderate success The Bubbas have earned thus far, the group still prefers playing in more intimate settings, such as street-side busking at Roots ‘N Blues. According to Christian, there’s a certain connection with the audience that is lost when playing in front of larger audiences.
“We like to connect with the audience,” Christian said. “It’s more fun, because you’re up close with the people, and you can see their emotions.”
Christian’s past experience and young age might not even be his most promising qualities. His drive to improve and expand his already-precocious musical talents gives him a lot of future potential. When asked about his songwriting abilities, Christian’s confidently optimistic response conveyed his ambitions.
“I’m not great at it, yet,” he said.
Perhaps not, but what currently serves as a crowd-pleasing cover act might one day develop into a more creative, artistic songwriting outlet for an older, even more versatile Christian.