On Saturday at the Gig Harbor Tree Lighting, Rokkerbox will play Christmas music. At one of their regular practices or shows around town, they might play classic rock, surf, punk, metal or, most likely, a combination of all of the above.
What separates Rokkerbox from the other garage bands in Gig Harbor and the Puget Sound region, according to founding member Rick Chester, is the band’s eclectic mix of styles and genres, and the chemistry with which they perform.
“The chemistry of these guys is so phenomenal,” Chester, Rokkerbox’s drummer, said. He founded the group two years ago, along with bass player John Killeen, after Killeen heard Chester banging away in his garage and knocked on his door to ask if he could sit in. They found their two other members, guitarists Matt Lawrence and Jesse Savage, after holding tryouts from a post on Craigslist.
“The Northwest didn’t need another band,” Killeen said. “But we did.”
Some of the group’s stylistic diversity comes from the age differences of its members. Savage is the youngest at 36, while Chester is the oldest at 63. Growing up listening to different kinds of music, Chester said, forced the band to blend genres together while looking for common themes.
“As a result, I’m playing so many songs I’ve never heard before,” Chester said. “It’s really expanded my musical taste.”
The four members also have a wide variety of performing experience, from Chester’s days in a rock/blues band in the Twin Cities to Savage’s time in a country act that once opened for superstar Blake Shelton.
But the criteria for their current shows, Killeen said, is pretty simple. “Our song selection is based on the question, ‘Will women dance to it?’” he said.
Rokkerbox’s set lists usually include classics like the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” or Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” retooled to introduce genre influences and played faster and more danceable. Changing the arrangements of these standards is a meticulous process, Chester said, but one that gives Rokkerbox its character.
“We don’t play anything the way it’s supposed to be,” he said. (watch the band perform their version of "Rock-and-Roll Christmas" below)
They’ve played local venues like the Hy-Iu-Hee-Hee and the Halftime Sports Saloon, as well as out of town shows such as Shelton’s OysterFest. “We’re not very well-known yet,” Chester said, especially in comparison to a few other regular Gig Harbor acts like the Beatniks or the Shy Boys.
But Chester said that the band’s list of show attendees and e-newsletter subscribers has been slowly growing. Shows like this Saturday’s give Rokkerbox a chance to bring their style to a wider audience. The band played at last year’s tree lighting as well, and Killeen said their rock-inflected take on Christmas classics had the crowd moving.
“It’s not ‘Kumbaya,’” he said.
One song the band has on tap for Saturday’s show mixes the holiday standard “Feliz Navidad” with the rock-and-roll standards “La Bamba” and “Twist and Shout,” for a sound Kileen said will be both traditional and wholly unique.
Rokkerbox’s members strive to make the band something slightly different in other respects, too, including their focus on charity. Chester said the group is always looking for good causes to raise money for, often in the form of benefit shows. Rokkerbox will perform for free in many of these cases.
“It’s great to get paid because we’re always breaking our equipment,” Chester said. “But we’re not in this for the money.”
What they’re in this for, for now, is to keep growing as a band – playing more shows and benefits, reaching a wider following and transitioning from an all-covers repetoire into writing some original songs. And, Chester said, they plan to continue having a blast playing together. At the band’s Friday night practices at Lawrence’s home, the members’ wives and their neighbors often gather to listen to the music, drink wine and dance.
“It’s like being 16 again,” Chester said.