Submitted by: James Houck, Lifeworks marketing assistant
Lead singer Sam Bisanz and keyboardist/backup vocalist Ron Stearns were the first of the band to arrive for the show on November 12, 2011 at the Grain Belt Bottling House in Minneapolis. As performing members of one of many prestigious Minnesota acts in the Rock the Cause lineup, they were given the VIP treatment with backstage wristbands and entry into the auspicious greenroom- the waiting area backstage, stocked with free beverages and
comfortable furniture; a coveted place where bands gather their mental and creative prowess before taking to the stage. Sam and Ron took their rock star thrones seated across from a couch squeezing in Farewell Milwaukee, an emerging Minneapolis band who just recently had a song released on the Cities 97 Sampler. Jon Ehresmann, McNally Smith College of Music guitar performance student, was also relaxing amidst the chill backstage setting with his band mates. Jon is participating in a newly pioneered work study relationship between McNally Smith and Lifeworks by leading the Lifeworks Rock of Ages Band.
Not long after Sam and Ron arrived, the other lead singer, Peter Goldberg came in abruptly with a boisterous swagger and jolly grin, sporting a red bandana tied around his head and a deer skin jacket. He made eye contact with Sam, smiled widely, and proclaimed with vigor, “Hey! I want to introduce the Bruce Springsteen Song!” Sam and Peter exchanged excited conversation while watching with wide eyes as musicians like the members of Murzik, Communist Daughter, and Grammy Award winning songwriter Kevin Bowe came in and out of the green room. Ron huddled in close to his band mates with an eager smile, taking in the excitement.
Scott Herold, director of sales at Lifeworks, and Rock the Cause CEO, came backstage and was warmly greeted by Peter as the man who made all of this possible. Scott hosted the event as the house MC, introducing bands and communicating the core information of the event. With an excited smile, Scott said to the band, “I’m going to introduce you to someone.” As Scott left to retrieve his mystery guest, Sam said quietly with a boyish smirk, “I hope it’s a hot girl.” Perhaps even better than a hot girl, Scott returned a few moments later with Adam Levy, lead singer/songwriter of the Honeydogs! Another surprise visit, this time from Lifeworks president and CEO, Judy Lysne helped to rev up the bands spirits as she warmly supported the crew with kind and enthusiastic words of encouragement.
As the show time neared, the guys became restless. The gravity of the scale of their performance was clearly evident. They realized that they were about to perform on a big stage complete with lighting effects and a smoke machine, in front of the largest audience of their career. Sam announced to the room that he was beginning to feel nervous. Peter advised, “Just block everything out and focus on the lyrics.” Meanwhile, Ben Lubeck, principal songwriter and lead singer from Farewell Milwaukee, was quietly tuned into the conversation. With a compassionate smile, he said softly, “Yeah, once you get out there and start playing, all that will go away.” Ben’s reassurance seemed to put the guys at ease, while the excitement mounted.
Andy Thornbrough, the other band leader from McNally Smith and drummer for the group, came back to the green room to check in with everyone just as the last member of the band arrived, Brittany Thorsen. Brittany gave Andy an excited handshake with a big smile as she took her rightful seat in the greenroom. Andy visited with the crew briefly and then went back out to the stage area to finish setting up. As Andy left, Sam yelled out after him, “Find me some girls!” It was evident by this time that Sam’s nervousness was beginning to dissipate, and that he was embracing the “rock star” persona. Just before the band took the stage, Sam excitedly stammered, “I’m in a building I’ve never been in before, with a bunch of bands I’ve never heard of…but it all rocks!”
As the Lifeworks Rock of Ages Band took the stage, they were met with abundant crowd applause. Here they were, rehearsed and led by two top notch, professional musicians, performing in the artsy Northeast neighborhood amidst a stage in the historically rich Grain Belt Bottling House, in the company of many amazing, established Minnesota acts, and raising money for people with disabilities and musicians in need. It doesn’t get any more rock star than that!
John and Andy expertly conducted the group, keeping the tunes cranking and the flow moving. John filled out the bands harmony on guitar and backup vocals, adding warmth and depth especially on the Eagles, “Take It Easy”. Andy kept everything tight with his percussion and backup vocals, holding down songs like Alabama’s, “I’m In a Hurry”, while at the same time, sharing a keyboard with Ron!
Peter and Sam were in full form, bending and gesturing their bodies to reinforce the strong emotional presence of their performance as they shared the expressive front man experience. Sam punched through the sound on Paul Simon’s, “Like a Rock”, and Peter brought home the high notes on Prince’s, “Raspberry Beret”, a crowd favorite. Ron’s ear to ear grin wavered only as he broke into song, glazing the band’s sound with backup vocals and keyboards, driving the tempo of Springsteen’s, “Dancing In the Dark”. Brittany helped move the percussive section of the band alongside Andy, and like Ron, lit up the stage with her ever present smile. She helped the band swing Bill Haley and Comets, “Rock Around the Clock”, which had the crowd up and dancing.
“Music affects us all on a deep and primal level…it’s in all of us.”
It’s safe to say that the Lifeworks Rock of Ages band stole the show. After their performance, the audience roared with cheers and applause. The Lifeworks Rock of Ages Band and Rock the Cause made history with the first program of its kind. After the show, Jon was asked how he felt about working with the band. He replied, “I’ve learned a lot more than they have. It was a phenomenal experience.” John seemed genuinely touched by participating in the band. In working with the group, he began to see how people with disabilities may have some limitations to deal with, however, “…they are amazing in other ways.” This experience not only allowed John to assist Lifeworks clients, but also helped solidify his belief in expression through music, “Music affects us all on a deep and primal level…it’s in all of us.”