By Robert Downes
Young musicians interested in a masters class in how to succeed would
do well to study Common Cent$, a band of rock veterans who have local
audiences eating out of the palms of their hands.
At a recent show in Traverse City, the band packed the dance floor
with an avalanche of classic rock hits delivered with razor precision
over an impeccable sound system. Guitarists Steve Krygier and Charlie
Kalbfleisch joined bassist Kevin DeVincent in plunging into the crowd
with their wireless mics and instruments, performing a get-down show
in the heart of the dance scene while drummer Steve Larson anchored
the action on a riser well above the stage.
Even if youre not a classic rock fan, you cant help but admire the
bands skill at delivering, blood-pumping, dead-on covers by Queen,
Journey, Loverboy, REO, Styx, Mellancamp and other hits that generate
a propulsive, get-up-and-boogie reaction from the audience. Toss in
the four-part harmonies and its clear that Common Cent$ has an
uncommon gift for drama and professionalism.
There is, in short, a lot of common sense to the performance route
taken by Common Cent$.
I want people to walk away from our shows feeling like they were at a
multi-thousand-person event, says Steve Krygier, 51, who handles lead
vocals along with keyboards and guitar.
Originally from Bay City and a special-ed teacher for the past 28
years, Krygier is the frontman for the group. He started out playing
drums, but his shout-it-out rock dramatics made him a natural to lead
the show. He ditched the drums, learned to play a keyboard, and moved
All of the bandmates have decades of experience under their belts and
three of them share an unusual Colorado connection. Krygier and
guitarist Charlie Kalbfleisch, 49, were in a band together in Boulder,
while drummer Steve Larson, 49, performed with a group in Colorado
Springs. We all met when we moved back to Michigan, Krygier says,
adding that family and raising kids were their motives for moving back
to their home state.
Theyve had their struggles, including the present hardship of getting
skeptical club owners to take a chance on an aging classic rock band.
When we moved here from Colorado Springs, the local musicians shunned
you, Larson says. They didnt want to help you get started.
If anything, they would lead you astray, Kalbfleisch adds.
Larsons day job is working with the State of Michigans Department of
Human Services, while Kalbfleisch is an electronics engineer who has
also served as a professional drum tech, touring with Grand Funk
Railroads drummer, Don Brewer. Through four years of trial and error,
Common Cent$ came together with a varying lineup of players,
eventually adding Kevin DeVincent, 54, on bass -- an Olesons employee
who is a veteran of many local bands.
Theyve spent years dialing in their sound and honing their show. We
put together our first group, but it wasnt working, Larson notes.
Thats when we put together a philosophy of why are we doing this
song? Kalbflieisch says. When we started the band, we had a lot of
discussion about what to play. At the time, Traverse City had a lot
of blues bands, so it was hard to break in.
Today when we decide to play a song, we ask ourselves, Was it a hit,
or was it a B-side that you like because youre a musician, but makes
the audience want to hit the reset button? Kalbfleisch continues.
So a song has to have had radio play for us to consider it. It also
has to be a song that were equipped to play and that the audience
will recognize as sounding just like the original.
Do they have their own stash of original material that they pull out
Weve bantered the idea around, but the reality is that playing
original music doesnt bring you anything in the market up here,
Kalbfleisch says. We did that for years in Colorado -- playing a
set of our own music -- but it never works out.
We work really hard to keep people at our shows and keeping club
owners happy, Krygier adds. And we work hard at having people want
to come back for more.
If the band spends hours agonizing over what will please their
audience, they are even more focused on their singing.
All of us have to sing, Krygier says. We dont do it just because
we want to sing, we do it because it rings with the audience.
Krygiers own vocals include astounding deliveries of virtuosos such
as Queens Freddy Mercury. A former high school choirboy, his vocals
are so good that audience members have wondered at times if hes
singing to tapes or through a vocal synthesizer, but other than a few
electronic effects available to any musician, the voice and passion
for singing is all Krygiers. He recalls the days of playing at the
Big Eazy in TC when the band would convene in the restaurants kitchen
to go over the Crosby, Stills & Nash harmonies of Carry On, sounding
out the vocal parts on a guitar, to be delivered moments later fresh
Wireless mics and earbud monitors keep the vocals on track. Were
keenly aware at all times of what other members of the band are doing
in the monitors, Krygier notes. Were a very vocal band, pulling
off harmonies that no one else can do.
Speaking of wireless mics and monitors (which can run $300-$500 per
unit), although the band doesnt confirm the amount, its easy to
imagine that Common Cent$ sound system runs into the $20,000 range --
a jaw-dropping array of speakers and electronic gear that goes far
beyond what any other band this side of Bump would be capable of
We have a lot of control, Kalbfleisch says. We sound the same in
any room we play. We got away from the big junk and play with small
amps, but its all through the p.a. so the audience hears exactly what
we hear through the monitors.
That control extended to requiring that Larson perform on electronic
drums to avoid any ambient cymbal or drum wash. Oddly enough, I
already had an electronic drum set when I joined the band, Larson
notes of his $6,000 kit.
Put it all together and Common Cent$ spells p-r-o-f-e--s-s-ionalism,
with four guys whove been rocking out since their early-to-mid teens
and know exactly what they want to do on stage. That commitment has
paid off: they have nearly 800 fans on Facebook and their email chain,
many of whom follow the band to gigs such as Torch Lakes Dockside,
Wilderness Crossing in Grawn, and the West Bay Holiday Inn deck in TC.
This is serious for us -- our faces are are onstage and its very
important for us to put on a good show, Krygier says.
Common Cent$ performs this Friday, July 9 at the West Bay Holiday Inn
deck from 5:30-9:30 p.m. Check out the bands webside at