Surrounded by a crowd of classmates on the sleek gymnasium court, six guys prepare to rock out. One has a red cut-off on. Another in a scout uniform. Another sprawling on the floor in an Indian headdress. All of them are wearing animal masks. Then as they begin to play, the masks are tossed into the air, and an explosion of energetic music shakes the audience. The group can’t help bouncing around and getting into the music as the cheering from the crowd intensifies. The beat of the drums, the riffs of the guitar and the bass, and the blaring of the sax, grow louder and louder.
As the song comes to a close, junior Michael Garringer springs up from the floor with his headdress still intact on his head, and yells out to the crowd, “Who is your favorite ‘Roseanne’ actor?”
The crowd screams back in unison, “John Goodman,” and the guys can’t help themselves from cracking up.
They are The Rock and Roll Spirit of John Goodman, a band comprised of juniors Garringer, Andrew Beasley, Brendan Dulohery, Wil Kenney, Andrew Long and Johnson County Community College student Sam Williams. They emerged into the public spotlight at the Shawnee Mission East Bunch of Bands concert and have only been officially together for about three months, but they have been sharing their passion for music with each other ever since freshman year in Kenney’s basement.
“Brendan and I had previously tried to get a group for the past two years, and this year we just decided to go for it and pull some friends together for Bunch of Bands,” Kenney said. “Messing around with some instruments in my basement has taught us how to explain music in a disorderly way. I can’t even read guitar music, but I can still play it decently because of the band.”
The band describes themselves a blend of alternative and indie rock, with a dash of punk. They draw inspiration from creative bands like The Black Keys, Tim and Eric, but mostly the award-winning band Arcade Fire.
“[Arcade Fire] isn’t just an inspiration for us, but they also are kind of a goal,” Kenney said. “If we could ever create something that was ever on par with any of their songs, well, that would be huge for me, personally.”
The group isn’t letting all of the praise they receive from classmates get to their heads either. They are a very modest group, and are just glad to share their work with their friends.
“Our intent is not to make it serious,” Kenney said. “We aren’t great, but we do a lot of energy-based music that we can get into and have fun with, and that usually convinces the crowd to just have fun and take it to the next level with us.”
After placing second at Bunch of Bands, the band thought about just having another smaller show in Kenney’s basement with a few other local bands such as Organized Mess, Imported Blizzard and The Gentlemen. So they went to Facebook and created an event titled “Velveeta Underground” a pun on the 60’s rock band Velvet Underground.
“We realized that it was hard to get gigs, so we just went out and made our own,” Kenney said. “We aren’t looking for money, so we made it free. But, I still wasn’t expecting much of a response to it, maybe 20 people.”
Only a few days later, 163 people marked that they were attending on Facebook.
“That’s when we realized that we were gonna have to move from Wil’s basement,” Beasley said. “We knew that we were going to have Velveeta Underground, above ground.”
The band then decided to rent out Matt Ross Community Center for the venue for their now much larger show. But with this big crowd, the guys knew that they were going to need to up their practice schedule.
The gang began gathering almost everyday in Kenney’s basement, and practice sessions lasted to up to five hours.
“We kind of morphed [Kenney’s basement] into our zone,” Garringer said. “We always know that when we go over there we are going to jam, and I’m always excited for that. It’s really become our place, and it would just seem weird to practice anywhere else.”
The band describes these practice sessions as constructive and focused, but also as just a good time with a couple of your best friends. It’s a place where they create songs such as “Dumbledorf’s Castle” or “Hey!” just by messing around with each other and bouncing ideas around the room.
“It’s a lot of fun at practice, but we are also working hard to make sure that solid enough to perform in front of people,” Beasley said. “What’s great is that when we get really into a song, we kind of just start bashing into each other. The energy level is awesome.”
But no one really gets into the music quite as much as the “showman” of the group, Garringer. The band believes that without him, they wouldn’t even come close to having the same effect on the audience.
“I’m just the least talented out of all of us, so I just go out there and act like a total jack [expletive deleted],” Garringer said. “I just get really hyper and I dance around with the band and in the crowd. I like to think that if I’m having a lot of fun, the audience is having just as much fun as me.”
The whole night has been building up to this moment. Here, The Rock and Roll Spirit of John Goodman stands, in school girl outfits––plaid uniform skirts and St. Teresa’s collared shirts. The band is already starting to sweat, and they don’t know if it’s from nerves or the extreme heat of the room full of people. They can’t contain their excitement––all of these people are here to see them. Months ago, they were just having small goofy jam sessions in a basement.
Dulohery then begins to pick and strum the intro to the band’s favorite song, one of their originals, “Careful Boy.” As the gentle melody wades through the air, the other band members know that this is what they have been waiting for. As the intro fades, silence fills the room. Then in a burst of sweet harmony, the bass, guitar, sax, drums and lyrics shatter the stillness, followed by the screams from the audience.
“It was that moment that made me realize how connected we all were, and how excited people were to hear us play,” Kenney said.
Velveeta Underground left the guys with many more memories than that. They remember their excitement when the crowd began chanting “Hey!” in unison with the band and when they improved half of “Dumbledorf’s Castle” and when junior Tom Lynch got right in Kenney’s face during the performance because the ecstatic crowd had gotten so close to the stage.
“I’m proud of how solid we have actually become,” Garringer said. “A lot of bands just don’t really work well together, but I’m out there with my five best friends and we sound pretty good together. But more importantly we sound how we want to sound and we have fun doing it, and that is what matters.”