WAVERLY — For the last 20 years, a group of Waverly teachers has found a second home in basements and brewpubs with guitars slung over their shoulders.
It all started after the 2001 Waverly High School graduation ceremony. A few teachers, including Alec Drachman, went to the home of the late Doug Keyes, a musician and Waverly teacher of 20 years. The group of teachers picked a few of the instruments set up in his basement and started to “goof around,” Drachman said.
“It was really fun but really terrible,” he joked.
Keyes and Drachman were among the few teachers in the original group who had been in a band or even knew how to play an instrument. They slowly began teaching the others to play, adding in drums and keyboards until they had a proper band.
The band officially debuted at the 2002 Waverly High School talent show. Today, they play classic rock, blues and pop at pubs, clubs and weddings. Most Thursdays they can be found at EagleMonk Brewery and Pub, performing in the beer garden.
As teachers have left the school district and band, they’ve been replaced by new teachers with musical backgrounds. The band’s current iteration, called Jimmy Likes Pie after a popular Seinfeld episode, features Drachman, now an MSU mathematics professor, on vocals, guitar, bass, harmonica and ukelele; Michael Shuptar, a Waverly English teacher, on lead guitar and vocals; Dave Gorbe, the Waverly band director on bass, guitar, trombone, trumpet, melodica and vocals; Michelle Frederick, a Spanish instructor at MSU and former Waverly teacher, on guitar, mandolin and vocals; and her husband Gordie Frederick,an electrician at the MSU Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, on drums.
At a gig at EagleMonk Thursday night, the band played to nearly 100 thirsty patrons. They write much of their own material, with lyrics about everything from drinking whiskey in coffee to an old Cadillac — “Dirty Cadillac,” a tune they wrote in an attempt to sound like AC/DC, they said.
“We are Jimmy Likes Pie and some of these songs are based on true events,” Shuptar said to the crowd as he introducing the band Thursday.
For the members, playing together is a way to burn stress. Shuptar, or “Shup,” comes from a background rich with music, performing in churches and playing in bands long before he joined Jimmy Likes Pie.
“I will shape my schedule around family, then work, then band practice,” Shuptar said.
COVID-19 forced the band to cancel live shows for more than a year, but they found ways to keep playing. They held driveway jam sessions at the Fredericks’ house, masked and distanced. When winter hit, they moved into the garage, where they’d bundle up and play near propane heaters to stay warm.
The pandemic also gave the band time to write new songs, like “Whiskey Fingers” and “Country Fifths,” a song Drachman described as being “about music and alcohol.”
The band took a break over the winter and resumed their Thursday night concerts in May, when EagleMonk welcomed them back to tapping feet and raised beer mugs.
“It’s still a stress relief, it’s still an outlet,” Michelle Frederick said. “It’s the camaraderie. It’s the release.
“And it’s cool because everyone is so talented,” she continued. “Sometimes I’m down in that basement and I’m just like, ‘how did I get to do this? These guys are so good, how did I get to sing with them?’”
The band plays its share of covers, too. When they tackle a Led Zeppelin tune, Michelle handles Robert Plant’s high-range vocals.
Gorbe takes care of vocals for several other songs when he isn’t playing the trombone or leading choruses for fan favorites, including “EagleMonk Song,” named after the brewpub. He encourages the crowd to sing along, just like he encourages his Waverly students to get creative in the school band.
“I spend all day long with little kids trying to get them to play and be creative,” Gorbe said. “This allows me to do that, but for myself.”
The band helps all of the teachers leave behind the stress of being an educator, serving as a support system for the members.
“No matter how bad your week’s going, Thursday night you know you’re getting together with great friends and making some music,” Drachman said. “Some nights it’s more of a therapy session — we talk a lot — and other nights we just play and write.”