Naming a band sucks. Seriously, give it a shot right now – think of a really cool band name. Got one?
Unfortunately, the name you just thought of has already been taken. So have the other 15 band names you can come up – all used by someone else. There are only so many names that can appear on a marquee and draw a crowd and Free Beer, Bare Naked Ladies and Free Lobster Buffet are all taken. Like I said, naming a band sucks.
But one brief, shining moment four years ago, the light of rock heaven shone down into a South Arlington basement and some local musicians had a naming epiphany: An all-90’s cover band called “White Ford Bronco.”
Gretchen Gustafson (vocals) Diego Valencia (vocals, guitar) Sean McCauley (bass) Matthew Golden (drums) Ken Sigmund (guitar)
The name is perfect. The iconic image of OJ and Al Cowlings driving down that LA freeway chased by reporters, police and football fans takes you back 20 years, bringing up not just images, but a soundtrack, a sliver of musical history. unbound by genre or style.
Luckily, the band lives up to its name and manages to capture both the excitement and diversity of that decade. Sharing lead vocal duties, Diego Valencia and Gretchen Gustafson together seem able to sound like anyone with a recording contract during the ‘90’s. They leap from Chumbawumba’s Tubthumping (yes, you know the song – “I get knocked down, but I get up again…”) to 4-Non Blonde’s What’s Up to The Black Crowes’ Remedy. And somehow they all sound good. The natural talent of these musicians, honed by years of shows both big and small, brings twenty-year old songs to life again.
Their set lists really do cover the entire decade, regardless of musical style. Who could imagine back in the ‘90’s that a band that would attempt to play both The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Ace of Base (Ace of Base clearly being the dark side of playing all things ‘90’s), let alone play them both well.
Why go to a WFB show? Because while your fear that co-workers will find out you are a fan keeps Hootie and the Blowfish off your iTunes playlist, you desperately want to get your drink on and sing along to Only Wanna Be With You.
Fan Anne-Marie McDonnell is typical of the WFB crowd. She discovered the band when they played a recent show at Nationals Stadium and has been a dedicated follower ever since, attending eight shows in the last year.
“The band is so good,” says McDonnell. “I’m blown away that they can go from 90's rock to Salt’n’Pepa to Hansen. It’s a guaranteed good time.”
Although based in DC, the band has played the East Coast from South Carolina to Connecticut and gone as far west as Ohio. Bass player Sean McCauley fondly remembers a gig in a Hartford, Connecticut fraternity house that seemed destined to be their worst ever.
“We show up mid-afternoon and the basement where we’re supposed to set up in is flooded in beer and who knows what else from the night before,” McCauley says between sets. “We made a stage out of forklift skids so we wouldn’t be standing in all that. But the amazing thing was, it turned out to be one of the most fun shows we’ve played.”
I understand why even a stinky, wet Connecticut basement could be a good venue for White Ford Bronco. The band has a great time on stage and their energy is contagious. I even witnessed concert-goers at a recent show moshing in a dark Capitol Hill basement to Third Eye Blind. You can slamdance to Third Eye Blind? Really?
WFB is not satisfied with complacent audiences. Their genius – in addition to being able to play songs from any genre – is their ability to make a crowd have fun with them. At last Saturday’s show at Columbia Heights’ Acre 121 Gretchen exhorted the crowd to do more than hum along.
“"You all need to drink a little more, you need more energy!” Gretchen shouted out.
Two songs later the crowd was bouncing and by the middle of the set most of them were so animated they were spilling their drinks on one another. They were having so much fun no one seemed to notice the sloping liquor.
White Ford Bronco has accomplished what few local bands have done: developed a dedicated core of fans who show up wherever they play.
“They’re great! I love them!” gushed one such fan, 26-year old Hali Voycik from DC. “I’m aspiring to be a groupie; I have a total girl crush on Gretchen.”
That, of course, is what every musician wants: a crowd of attractive young people aspiring to be groupies.
But what has been the highlight for the band so far?
“Playing the 9:30 Club,” guitarist Ken Sigmund says without a pause. “That was the best.”
December 22nd: The Tortoise and Hare in Arlington, VA
January 11th: Auld Shebeen in Fairfax, VA