Joybox Express Mission Statement
Enhancing the quality of children’s lives through music, art, and athletics.
Mr. B’s Joybox Express Story
Mr. B’s Joybox Express (JBE) is the realization of an ambition I have had my whole adult life—combining two passions of musical expression and athletic endeavor. My life’s work has been as a pianist, performing throughout the world as a soloist, with big bands, and occasionally with some of the giants of the blues/jazz piano world. I have spent much of my free time in an array of sports from baseball leagues to extreme winter camping and long-distance open water swimming, among others.
Recognizing that uniting these seemingly divergent interests required a unique platform, I dreamed of putting a real piano on a bicycle and riding it across the USA. As I approached 50, the dream reemerged, with a twist: Could that whimsical notion be a tool to help others in a tangible way? My father, grandfather, and brother were all community-minded. The gifted fraternity of celebrated pianists I sought out as a young man to learn my craft were generous with me, too, and I realized it was my turn to give back. What if the piano bike could become a reality? And could the infectious boogie woogie music I learned from the masters, along with the physical demands of biking, be used to inspire charitable giving?
At the same time, I was troubled that, throughout America, arts and athletics —so crucial to healthy development—were increasingly underfunded and less available to our children. I decided to leverage my passions to address this need.
One of my first moves was a discussion with long-time friend and custom bicycle builder Mark Nobilette of Longmont, Colorado. Mark has made bikes for USA Cycling, one of which was ridden to a world championship. His customers also include Colorado-based Main Street Pedicabs, for whom he developed prototype human-powered vehicles. He has also shared my vision since wewere in our twenties, and we agreed that somehow, some way the bike could be built. We were not sure how to pay for it. A chance meeting and conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom became pivotal. We thought we could start with a concert in Ann Arbor to raise money, and I proposed a concert featuring nine prominent pianists. They all agreed not only to the concert but also to a live recording. Proceeds from the concert gate and CD sales allowed Mark to start work. He drew on his experiences with world-class competitors and customers like Mainstreet, and Mainstreet made an invaluable contribution of some proprietary parts.
Mark created a masterwork. A platform suspended over the rear axel supports our 350-pound piano and absorbs punishment from the road. Attachments at the rear allow two extra cyclists to push, and hydraulic disc brakes and a rear differential are crucial for control. With three riders, the piano trike is 16 feet long, four feet wide, and weighs roughly 1,200 pounds.
In 2009 we made our inaugural ride of 150 miles in Michigan, testing three things: the bike (a marvel), our bodies (up to the task), and the public’s reaction (beyond expectations). We worked with about a dozen charitable organizations our first year, playing our music and showing the bike at events. We learned that people were captivated by the spectacle and that the effort required of us to make it all work inspired an outpouring of giving.
In 2010 I had the great fortune to speak and perform at TEDx Detroit, an offshoot of the annual TED gathering of “big brains and cool creators.” The reception was outstanding. We were finalists for the “Charity of the Year Award” from the Michigan Association of Student Councils/Michigan Association of Honor Societies in 2011. I was gaining confidence that the JBE could be a tool for positive change in the lives of others. Subsequent tours followed in 2010 and 2011, twice crossing Michigan, a total of 800 miles. We also grew into a quartet, hauling all our instruments. A string bass in its own custom-built bike trailer, a drum set in a suitcase that becomes the kick drum and holds the cymbals, and a solar-powered electric guitar whose solar array attaches to our piano cover, all add to our allure. One of the greatest thrills of the JBE is that it invites spontaneity; we can stop pedaling, uncover our piano, and perform for people at the most unexpected times in the most unexpected spots. A group of people on a porch, a housepainter on a ladder, or a young family in their car, whom we waved down on a lonely back road, all received impromptu “micro-concerts.”
Media attention came easily, and we drew many more charitable groups to the project, some of which partnered with us to produce Joybox Group Rides.
In 2011 we made important commitments to our future. First, we achieved 501(c)(3) non-profit designation. As the responsibilities and workload of our project grew, so did the team of people committed to seeing it succeed; I havebeen rewarded with inspired teamwork and the broadened sense of possibilities we have created together. Even more rewarding are the pleasures our team shares when we see our community-minded goals come to life.
Next, we ramped up for our most ambitious project to date, 2014’s “Mississippi River Road Ride.” The “MRRR” was an 1840 mile, 75 day ride from the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca, MN, to New Orleans. We played for over 32,000 people; delivered school programs to 1700 children, played both community concerts and 81 impromptu roadside concerts, and inspired thousands of people young and old to believe any dream is possible if you persist. We were also an integral part of dozens of events designed to support children’s programs in the communities we passed through. Our efforts were supported by 241 donors and volunteers, and we received quite a lot of media coverage, including national coverage by NBC and USA Today. Our tour concluded with a concert at the prestigious Preservation Hall in New Orleans. The MRRR was produced by Artrain, a nationally celebrated and award winning Arts presenting organization. Going forward we will continue our tradition of creating events that demonstrate both the artfulness of musicianship, and the athleticism of serious physical challenges such as endurance cycling and swimming. Our passion shines through in all we do, and we continue to believe that our passion displayed as it is will serve as a catalyst to giving in the communities we pass through.