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Kaylee born to be a Starr
Kaylee Poppinga cut her teeth at county fairs — literally.
The Yuba City resident lost her first tooth while watching her dad at one of many performances her family had traveled to since her infancy. It wasn't long until she joined him on stage, and now she leads her own band, flashing her pearly whites at crowds as she belts out '60s tunes or sings sweet covers of Taylor Swift.
The Faith Christian High School graduate and her all-local band play across the state, rocking casinos or filling opera houses with poppy tunes, but on Friday they brought it all back home to share their music and vocals at the Yuba-Sutter Fair under the name Kaylee Starr. "The Yuba-Sutter Fair is my home fair," Poppinga said. "I always feel welcome."
In a shimmering gold top, black shorts and 6-inch wedge heels, she gripped the microphone with her pink fingernails, encouraged young girls to join her on stage and never stopped moving.
Whether wailing like Pat Benatar or Michael Jackson, the 18-year-old performer covered all corners of the stage, air guitaring to bassist Carson Mitchell, kickboxing with her brother Kyle Poppinga, or putting her nose and microphone mere inches from guitarist Casey Doss' face — antics the guys can't keep from smiling at.
"It's a blast to get to play with your friends and do something you enjoy doing," said Mitchell. "I want to be playing with these guys when I'm in a wheelchair."
All but drummer Robby Jellsey, who went to New Life Christian School, attended Faith Christian and have been performing together for many years. They pray before every practice and performance, and are so close, they are practically family, they said.
They counsel one another on their love lives, tease Kaylee Poppinga when she cries during Swift's "Never Grow Up," and agree the only song they won't sing is "Love Story."
"Instead, we just trick them into liking songs we play," Doss said.
While early-afternoon fair attendance was low Friday, their powerful vocals and music quickly lured in passers-by, such as Yuba City resident Carol Summers, who settled in the shade to watch with her family. Summers' 5-year-old great-granddaughter, Chasidy Sills, danced to the music and admired Poppinga from afar.
"She's got a beautiful voice," she said. "The vocals are easy to listen to, and they seem to have so much fun, it makes you have fun."
Shows are often filled with 5- and 7-year-old girls who dance during songs and want autographs on their arms, said Poppinga's mother, Starr Poppinga. She loves watching her daughter perform, with her goofy attitude and amazing voice, especially when she strays from the covers.
"There's a different passion when she's singing her own songs," she said. "I know what mood she was in when she was writing it and what was going on in her life."
Redding resident Mike McCrae was passing by the Pepsi Stage when he spotted Poppinga and paused to watch. As a lifelong music lover, he's seen impersonators and tribute bands before, but when she sang her own songs he could see clearly she was different.
"Somebody better make her a star, because she's phenomenal," he said. "She can do rock; she can do country. This is talent."
As soon as she was done on stage in Yuba City on Friday, Poppinga packed it up and sped to South Lake Tahoe for a '60s tribute, and later this month she'll be in Idaho at the state fair for some of her favorite '80s songs.
She's not sure how often the band will be able to perform together once she starts school this fall at Azusa Pacific University, where she's pursuing a bachelor's degree in film and arts for stage and screen. She made sure her class schedule has Fridays off, just in case.
"I don't know what I'm gonna do if I go to college, and I don't sing anymore," she said. "I think it was something I was born to do."