Former Marshall football game drummer now a worldwide performer
Robin Y. Richardson
Aug. 13, 2017 at 4 a.m.
Making his debut at the age of 4, playing cadences alongside drummers in Marshall High School's marching band, Alwyn Robinson continues to captivate audiences - worldwide - as a professional percussionist in the Colorado-based bluegrass/rock/jam band, Leftover Salmon.
"It's all been good," Alwyn said of his journey, which has taken him to all 50 states and at least three countries.
"They've been playing professionally for years at a lot of music venues across the country," he said of the band, which he's been with since 2013. "It's been an amazing experience and led me to playing (in front of) a lot of other amazing audiences through that (platform)."
Alwyn, a 2007 MHS graduate and son of former MHS band director Anthony Robinson Sr. and local educator Wanda Robinson, teases about playing the drums, straight from the womb.
"I do recall when I was (age) 2 or 3 (on drums), or seeing photos of me playing," the now 28-year-old said. "I was always beating and tapping on stuff… a little young tot."
Born premature, the first rhythm that Alwyn recognized and tapped on the drum was the sound of his ventilator.
"I said: 'Look at that,'" Anthony Sr. said, recalling how amazed he was.
He remembers Alwyn growing up putting down toys for an old broken set of high school tenor marching drums called quads.
"When other little kids would come to the house and play with toys, Alwyn would tell them he played with quads," Anthony Sr. laughed.
"Those kids were like: 'What is that?'" he chuckled.
Besides his father, an accomplished musician himself, Alwyn has two older brothers, Anthony Jr. and Aaron, who always dabbled with drums, too.
"It was always something I had a serious connection to since I was a kid; and being around it so much, it was easy for me to connect to it on a more personal level," Alwyn said, sharing how doing something he loves brings him so much happiness and joy.
Alwyn's journey from a tot playing at football stadiums to a young professional performing at arenas and coliseums began in about 1993 during his father's tenure as one of the band directors for MISD. In 2003, Alwyn became a member of the "Big Red Pride" band himself, where he always maintained his first chair position in the All Region Jazz Band at concert band orchestra auditions throughout his entire high school career.
In high school, he also auditioned and earned a place in the Texas All State Symphony Orchestra where he played a featured solo in "Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra." Alwyn also advanced as a four-time first division winner at the Texas State Solo & Ensemble Contest, and made history, becoming a three-time winner of the TSSEC's Outstanding Performer Medal. He's the only MISD music student to have accomplished such honor to this day.
"He was one of those little geniuses (as seen on Steve Harvey's Little Big Shots TV show on child prodigies)," Anthony Sr. said, recounting how Alwyn started attracting crowds as a child.
The father particularly knew there was something special about his young son, when he stole the show at a Shreveport Symphony Orchestra concert at only 3 years old.
"I was performing with the Shreveport Symphony, and Peter Leonard was conducting and Alwyn was conducting right along with him (while in the audience) and he started stealing the attention from the concert," Anthony Sr. reminisced. "He was conducting in perfect time. They were like how did you teach him to do that.
"I said, 'I didn't,'" the father recalled, laughing.
At football games, the high school drum leader was always eager to let young Alwyn play.
"When (he) didn't want to play, he'd give the sticks to Alwyn," Anthony Sr. said.
Impressed, the memory of the little drummer boy stayed with fans throughout the years.
"When I became head director it was Alwyn's senior year," Anthony Sr. said. "A lady asked what happened to the little baby that was playing (at the games).
"Alwyn was standing there on the side, I pointed and said, 'he grew up,'" the father chortled.
When he wasn't playing with the high school band or auditioning in contests, Alwyn entertained local and area crowds as one-fourth of the teen band "The Knowmads."
"We started in junior high," he said of the teen sensation he was a part of with friends Barney Canson and Zach and Matthew McCathran. "That's when I started digging into playing drum sets, which I'm now pursuing full-time."
Following high school, Alwyn began his studies in music performance at Texas Tech University in the fall of 2007. While at Texas Tech, he was a featured soloist with the Tech Steel Band, jazz ensemble, percussion ensemble and orchestra. As a band member he traveled to Trinidad for a performance tour in 2009, and then to China in 2010 with the Tech Percussion Ensemble to participate in China's World Music Conference.
After completing coursework for his music performance degree, Alwyn moved to Colorado to pursue his master's degree in jazz studies at the University of Colorado.
"That's when I really started to get out and play a lot more regularly, and really started getting into that world of being a performing artist," he said.
It was at the university where his craft caught the attention of the reputable Leftover Salmon band.
"While in graduate school, I performed at a faculty recital for the University of Colorado," Alwyn recounted.
The arranger of that recital ironically was the bass player of Leftover Salmon. They crossed paths by chance.
"I got asked to perform (at the faculty recital) because someone couldn't make it," said Alwyn. "Six months later, he gave me a call."
The bass player invited him to come and tour around the world with the jam band.
"I thought it would be a great opportunity to play this different style of music and be on the road, playing this music," Alwyn said, describing the sound as a diverse mixture of folk, bluegrass, rock, zydeco and soul.
"I've been touring and playing since; and since then have moved to Brooklyn," he said.
A resident of New York now, Alwyn stays busy writing and recording with various renowned acts in the city. He still tours the country with Leftover Salmon, as well. Last month, the band performed at the Red Rocks Amphitheater before a crowd of 10,000.
Alwyn's parents were also in the audience, beaming from ear-to-ear.
"(I'm) very proud of this MHS band alum," his father and former band director, Anthony Sr., said.
Being able to perform at venues such as the Red Rocks Amphitheater has been a dream come true for the Marshall native.
"It was my second time performing there," said Alwyn. "It's one of the most amazing music venues in the country, for sure."
It's rewarding for him to be able to share the same stage with musicians he grew up admiring like the Beatles, the Tedeschi Trucks band and Rolling Stones.
"I'm a big fan of those groups," said Alwyn. "It's really, really cool to know that I was able to walk in those same hallways they walked in and go through the same mental preparation and be in the same space."
The Big Apple
As a New Yorker now, Alwyn is humbled to have an opportunity to be an artist in the city, and contribute his gifts to the music scene there.
"I'm very attracted to the music scene, and the culture," said Alwyn, describing New York as one of the best performing arts scenes on the planet.
"I wanted to be a part of that scene," he said. "I saw a window to move. I made the move."
He's had no regrets since.
"It's been incredible to experience a high level of music, see high level art, meet great people, and see these worlds co-existing and put it in your music, your everyday life," said Alwyn. "It's been incredible to live where I live."
He's been there for about four years now and is currently working on his own music that he hopes to release this fall. He's also been recording in Tuscon, Arizona, with Leftover Salmon. This time, he'll have a song and vocal credit on the project, which he's excited about.
"I've been interested in being able to explore different avenues of music," Alwyn said of adding vocalist to his vitae. He's excited about the challenge.
Growing up with a musical father as his mentor helped mold him into the professional percussionist he is today, too.
"He was everything," said Alwyn. "That was my teacher, my dad, my parent.
"Every day I was able to learn from somebody who has mastered the instrument and who has put in years and years of work as a top-notch professional," said Alwyn. "He's very professional and very serious about his work.
"With that being said, it pushes you to raise the bar because he's passing the torch to his kids and it's my responsibility to raise the bar and that was so influential for me," said Alwyn.
Anthony Sr. is happy to see his son having the time of his life. For him, Alwyn was easy to teach by just setting an example.
"I discovered anything I wanted Alwyn to play I would just play it (out of the blue) and I knew he was listening," Anthony Sr. said. "He would ease back into the room and start playing. I said: 'OK, he's listening.' That's how I would teach him."
He's proud to see his son take a step further as a road musician than he did.
"Alwyn just picked it up. He's gone a lot further than I did when I was gigging," the father said, sharing he was a road musician in a group called Steve Wells Trio before deciding to teach and play in symphony orchestras after marrying.
And although he's traveled around the world, touching every stage in the country, Alwyn's never forgotten Marshall, Texas - his home.
"My journey, this short one I've had, has definitely been inspired by a lot of my friends and my family from back home," the drummer said. "There's a lot of great things going on in Marshall; some of my friends from Marshall are doing great things.
"It's important to know there's people from Marshall doing amazing (things) all over the world," said Alwyn. "It's inspiring a lot of (young) adults to remember to keep pushing, to go back to that root from what it's about. That inspires my journey."
Alwyn hopes that others are inspired by his journey, too.
"It's about being able to go experience that and bring it back to my community and share it … inspire … and keep that cycle going," he said.