When Brazilian twins Walter and Wagner Caldas were running around barefoot in the violent, impoverished slums of Rio de Janeiro, they couldn’t possibly have imagined headlining a Los Angeles-sponsored gig 5,000 miles away at Dog Mountain in Vermont. Undoubtedly, their July 28 appearance in the Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Music Series is an eagerly anticipated highlight of the free ten-concert season, but their Northeast Kingdom visit is hardly the most far-fetched stop on their wild musical journey.
As children growing up in the favelas—or slums—of Rio, Walter and Wagner learned to play music on violins made by their dad, a full-time trucker and part-time toymaker who hoped music would keep his kids away from drug trafficking and gangs. “We had a lot of friends get killed,” Walter told Tim Paluch of DSM magazine. “Our mother used to take us to see their bodies.”
The twins were musical savants, able to play by ear any song they heard. In no time at all, they were playing in a youth orchestra for celebrities and dignitaries, and a 2006 performance in Rio de Janeiro caught the attention of NPR. An Iowa listener booked the twins for a conference in Des Moines, where the University of Northern Iowa president offered them a full scholarship. The twins, with only an eighth grade education and no English beyond Michael Jackson lyrics, accepted.
The boys formed B2wins (short for Brazilian Twins) in college, and eventually their infectious classically trained spin on pop hits earned them so many gigs, they left school to perform full-time. They were preparing for the 2015 80/35 Music Festival, in fact, when Wagner, wiping steam off the bathroom mirror after a shower, discovered a lump on his chest.
Wagner was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma. He played the music festival, and then endured 31 rounds of chemo in nine months. Warned that his left arm might need to be amputated, he taught himself to play the piano…with one hand. The band continued to tour in Wagner’s absence, but fans in his Brazilian hometown shaved their heads in solidarity, and Wagner played practical jokes and made dance videos in hospital hallways. When his treatments ended, he made a surprise appearance at the band’s Waterloo concert, playing ukulele as his brother sang, “Lean on Me.”
The B2wins continue to captivate audiences worldwide with their unforgettable live shows, described by fans as like seeing your new best friends in concert. Electric violin and ukulele arrangements are the core of their distinctive and catchy instrumentation, influenced by American pop songs, reggae, hip-hop, and funk. Beyond their staggering musical ability, however, is their magnificent showmanship.
“To simply walk on stage and play music is a shortcoming,” the twins say. “Our desire is to make you experience the full spectrum of emotions. We (aim) to blow your mind at every performance.” Music, according to the twins, is a tool, a tool they’ve used to defeat poverty, overcome adversity, escape violence, and beat cancer. Furthermore, it’s a tool they’re using to make the world a better place, one smile at a time.
B2wins are playing with opening act Buzzkill Emily at Dog Mountain this Sunday, July 28, as part of the 2019 Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Music Series, which takes place Sunday evenings from 4-7 p.m. through Sept. 22. The concerts are free, family-friendly, and dogs are welcome! Parking is on-site (with handicapped parking available), and carpooling is encouraged. Food and drink is available for sale thanks to Kingdom Taproom, providing beer and wine, and local food vendors including, new this year, Calex, the ambulance service that recently branched out to the burgers-and-fries business. No outside alcohol is permitted.
The Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Music Series is supported in part by the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation, a private foundation that empowers towns and cities across America to transform underused public spaces into thriving destinations through the power of free live music.