Punk rock gets a little glee



By Meryl Fulinara

A local Chicago group is hitting a high note with a different take on acapella.

Every Monday night at Epiphany Episcopal Church, 201 S. Ashland Ave., Blue Ribbon Glee Club meets to sing, dance and enjoy the fellowship of one another. But this is not an average choral group.

The Glee Club isn’t based on singing ability, but on a passion for music and an affinity for punk rock.

The group was founded a year-and-a-half ago by local Chicago artist Dee Clements and two members of Chicago folk-rock band Notes and Scratches, Josh Dumas and Whitney Johnson.

Dumas sent out an e-mail to friends asking if they would be interested in the idea of a punk rock Glee Club.

“I got that e-mail and passed it along to some other people. I decided I’m not a singer at all, but it sounded like fun,” said Courtney Groves, current member of the Glee Club. “In the original e-mail, Josh said if you couldn’t really sing, just dance, play an instrument or do whatever. It wasn’t going to be anything serious-just fun.”

Groves said she gave it a try despite her lack of confidence in singing, she continued showing up and was surprised that the Glee Club kept going and that things were actually working.

The first practice, held in a Bucktown attic in November 2007, brought together 20 musicians, artists and hipsters and has since grown to a rotating list of 25 to 30 members.

“I was captivated by the idea but initially a little skeptical,” said Rob Kowalczyk, a 32-year-old reference librarian and one of the current leaders of the club. “I showed up to the first practice and saw how it went; I wasn’t taken back by the idea, but by what happened during the first practice.”

The Glee Club has since covered songs like Sleater-Kinney’s “Words and Guitar” and Fugazi’s “Waiting Room,” turning the lo-fi punk hits into cutesy good-time anthems.

“There are a lot of folks who are really passionate about music one way or another,” Kowalczyk said, “which is more than what we hope for than vocal proficiency-punk rock spirit.”

The group will be singing at the Lakeshore Theater, 3175 N. Broadway Ave., on Oct. 25 for the political comedy festival “This Country’s F$cked,” hosted by the alternative sketch comedy troupes Schadenfreude and GayCo.

Schadenfreude comedian, Justin Kaufman, said they wanted to add the Glee Club to their showfor spectacle-adding other acts besides comedians-punk rock seemed like the perfect fit.

“It’s interesting because I think punk music has a lot of political overtones to it,” Kaufman said. “They come together-political music and punk rock; it’s an easy marriage. It should be easy for [the Glee Club] to choose some songs for the show.”

The Glee Club and Schadenfreude performed together in April for a PBR neighborhood tour at Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave.  The show sparked talks of the two collaborating and having the Glee Club perform some political punk songs.

“Punk rock is more political in nature,” Kaufman said. “And [the Glee Club was] going to do songs that were in that vein.”

Members of Schadenfreude wanted the Glee Club to present songs with a political theme, Kowalczyk said.

“The first song that came to mind was the Dead Kennedy’s ‘California Uber Alles’ or  even T. Rex’s ‘Children of the Revolution,’ at least by means of its title,” Kowalczyk said. “We just put together a Pennywise song and have been working on a Vandals song.”

The members have varying degrees of musical experience and musical abilities.

Some Glee Club participants are members of other Chicago-area bands, like Henry Prendergast, who plays in the rock duo the Record Low and Robert Brenner and Paul Nixon, who are both a part of punk band Black Apple.

The Glee Club’s preferred method of adding members to the group is to have current members bring in friends who might be interested in joining.

Kowalczyk said that a couple months back,  membership for the Glee Club got a little low because people just weren’t showing up.  Billy Helmkamp of Whistler Records posted a bulletin on MySpace to see if anyone would be interested in joining the group.

Kowalczyk said the club got a lot of positive responses and eight people showed up to the next practice.

“Everyone gets along really well, even though we are just a bunch of people thrown together,” Groves said. “I like the people, and I like hanging out with them once a week. That’s been the really great thing about this club, making friends.”

The Glee Club’s punk rock spirit is trying to bring people together as well as update familiar songs to be seen in a more playful light.

“I think the romance and the nostalgia has worn off, but I’m still really excited by the whole thing,” Kowalczyk said. “[Singing] with other really cool folks every Monday night and singing songs that we all really like is nice; I like it a lot.”

See the Blue Ribbon Glee Club perform at Lakeshore Theater, 3175 N. Broadway Ave., on Oct. 25 as part of the political comedy festival “This Country’s F$cked.” Tickets are $20.