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Fall River High School Pep Band rocks with unique sound

September 28, 2018

Fall River’s pep band isn’t like most high school bands. They rock.

With a tradition that started decades ago, the Fall River Pep Band utilizes its small size to entertain audiences with popular classic rock selections, rather than typical big band style music.

The group, under the direction of Joe Matura, features a lead singer, guitarists, drummers, keyboardists and bass players, but also utilizes a large horn section. The sound is similar to the band Chicago, who mixed traditional rock band elements with saxophones, tubas and French horns as it rose to popularity in the 1970s.

“The Fall River Band has always been a rock-based band,” Matura said. “And that’s been going since one of the earliest directors back in the 1960s and 70s. We have a pretty long history. You can talk to people from up north in Wisconsin and other places around the state and they’ll say, ‘Oh, you’re the band that has the rock group in it.’”

Fall River’s band plays at several school sporting events and even rival schools admit the band is top-notch. The band currently has 23 members.

“They’ll say, ‘Man, your band is so good,’” Matura said. “It’s pretty unique for a small town like this.”

During its shows, it’s typical to hear the band pump out classics from Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and the Scorpions, among others. Matura said the band tends to stick to classic hard rock, but will sometimes branch out to newer selections. The band is currently working on “The Middle,” by Jimmy Eat World, a track from the early 2000s.

“We tend to cater to songs from the ’70s and ’80s that people tend to know,” Matura said. “It’s a pretty wide range and it’s been a lot of fun.”

The band has a long set list handed down from generations, but tends to keep about 20-25 songs in its steady rotation. Matura sometimes introduces new tracks to pique the band’s interest and keep the sound fresh.

Fall River’s band performs at all home football games and every home conference basketball game. Outside of school events, the band plays at the Columbus Fourth of July Parade, Randolph Corn Festival on Labor Day and the Fall River Sorghum Fest. Matura is trying to schedule more events.

“It’s a lot to ask the kids to set up for an event on a Saturday morning, but once 11 a.m. rolls around, they’re all ready to play,” Matura said. “They just love it.”

Three of the band’s core members are senior Maddy Sauer, junior Caleb Slotten and sophomore Helena Nashold. Sauer plays bass guitar, Nashold handles keyboards and vocals, while Slotten shreds as the lead guitarist. Sauer’s younger brother Jack is one of the band’s drummers. When not performing with Fall River’s band, the group plays as Last Wish.

“I was always in band and always loved it,” Nashold said. “When I heard we had a pep band and they needed someone to play keyboard, I volunteered and it was a really great decision.”

Slotten said performing with friends makes him come back to the band every year. Despite being teenagers, Sauer said the band prefers jamming to older tracks, tunes that filled the air waves when their parents were in school.

“We really like classic rock,” Sauer said. “That was a big reason for me in joining the band.”

Sauer said the ability to add their own unique twist, such as a longer guitar solo, keeps the band interested in playing the same tracks multiple times. During a practice Sept. 25, the band pounded out its version of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child ’O Mine.”

“I like ‘Summer of ’69,’ that’s one of my favorites to play and it’s just a great song, in general,” Slotten said.

Nashold enjoys songs from rock queens Pat Benatar and Joan Jett, while Sauer’s favorite is “Johnny B. Goode,” by rock n’ roll pioneer and guitar virtuoso Chuck Berry.

“I like any song with a walking bass line,” Sauer said.

Nashold said Last Wish attended a band camp in the summer and the group wrote an original song. They hope to perform it at an upcoming pep band event. As they dive into another school year, members will keep rocking together.

“Especially basketball games, those are a lot of fun,” Nashold said.

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