MARQUETTE - They may come from diverse geographic locations and backgrounds, but the members of the band Circle of Willis are united by the love of music and the fun they have playing it.
The geographic diversity? Member Greg Sandell, who plays keyboards, banjo and guitar, is a Marquette native, but here's the breakdown of where the rest of CIrcle of Willis members were raised: John Kus, drummer, Lake Linden; Tom McKenzie, rhythm guitar, ukulele, harmonica and vocals, Flint; Brian Geshel, guitar, West Palm Beach, Fla., then Lake Linden; and Eric Moe, bass, Niles, Mich.
Sandell, who with his wife, Jill, has four kids ages 11 to 27, is an elementary school teacher who has played in several bands through the years.
Marquette band Circle of Willis are, from left, Brian Geshel, Eric Moe, John Kus, Greg Sandell and Tom McKenzie.
"I started playing because a kid in the neighborhood walked up one day with a guitar and said he'd been taking guitar lessons," Sandell said. "First person I'd ever seen play guitar in person. I thought 'I want to try that.' It absolutely fascinated me that he, a childhood friend, could just walk up and play something."
A few years ago, Tom McKenzie approached him about starting a new band.
"Tom came to me and said 'I have decided that this year, I will make a commitment to rock.' Funniest thing I'd heard. He told me he wanted to, at 40-something, be in a rock band. He asked John Kus to join in, too. John's a good singer and owns drums," Sandell said. "All three of us liked different kinds of music. Brian Geshel was asked to join because he's so darn good. And a nice guy he is. Eric Moe was asked to join because he likes some alternative stuff and he's good.
Circle of Willis: "The Circle of Willis is a medical term because Tom and John work in the OR at MGH," band member Greg Sandell explained. "It is a circle of arteries that supply blood to the brain and surrounding structures."
That explanation was a bit of a letdown for Moe, though: "Kind of a bummer to me as I thought we were a Tood Bridges musical support group."
Here are five musicians/musical groups whose music you might hear at a Circle of Willis show:
- Doug Sahm and Band
- The Bee Gees
Circle of Willis will be playing the main stage from 1 to 3 p.m. today at the U.P. Fall Beer Fest in Mattson Lower Harbor Park in Marquette
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"The best part of playing is I really like these guys," Sandell said. "I'd get together and not play music."
For McKenzie, who has lived in Marquette since 1992 and is the father of musicians Gretchen and Dawson McKenzie, this is his first band and the experience has been great.
"I love these guys," McKenzie said. "They are amazing musicians and human beings. They strive to make me a better musician and vocalist."
The most difficult part?
"We all work like dogs and all have individual opinions of who we are as a band, but in the end, we love to entertain and provide our fans with an experience they won't forget."
Kus, who has lived in Marquette since 2001, is married to Molly and is father to Romy Kus. He played in band called Shakey Deal throughout college and lists rock, old country and reggae as his musical influences.
Kus is enjoying the Circle of Willis experience.
"I feel very fortunate to be playing with this great group of guys," Moe said. "They are a blast to be around and I think the audience has equally as much fun at our gigs."
Geshel was Kus's bandmate in Shakey Deal, one of several bands he played in while living in the Copper Country.
"The largest influence I had grown up, though, was probably hanging out at the Suburban Exchange in Houghton, a local venue Bernie Larsen created that allowed everyone who wanted a place to play to come and do so," Geshel said. "I spent every weekend there when I was in school, watching and eventually playing in bands."
It was a chance meeting in Marquette, where he has resided for six years now, that drew Geshel into the Circle of Willis.
"I hadn't seen John in years and ran into him at work one day and he invited me over to a practice," Geshel said. "I wasn't really interested in playing in a band at the time, but showed up to practice anyway. Once I met everyone else and realized how nice, laid back and humble everyone was, I was totally into it.
"I think we're a pretty eclectic group of musicians who all have something different to bring to the table."
That unique quality is what Moe liked about joining Circle of Willis.
A member of a number of garage bands in his youth, he moved to Marquette in 1992 to finish college and stayed here. He and his wife, Mary, have two daughters, Ruby and Erin.
In his college days, Moe met up with Andy Langlois and eventually became part of the 1990s regional favorites, Kicking Mr. Rogers.
"After that, I just kind of filled in here and there and played with friends at open mics," Moe said. "I was called by Greg a little over two years ago and was asked to play bass in a band that wasn't real serious and wouldn't take up a ton of time as we all had careers and families. ... I went to the first practice and had only heard a handful of their songlist before but it was fun and I was introduced to a lot of genres I had missed in my snarky alternative youth."
Circle of Willis is scheduled to play from 1 to 3 p.m. today at the U.P. Fall Beer Fest in Mattson Lower Harbor Park in Marquette.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is email@example.com.