A popular Kent band is about to live out a fantasy for most musicians. This Friday, the Speedbumps will play their original music in front of a 40-piece orchestra in a classic theater.
The idea for the unique collaboration started about two years ago.
“It actually started with my husband,” said Michelle Mullaly, executive director of the Canton Symphony. “We were at a Speedbumps concert and he said to me ‘These guys would be really good with the orchestra.’ At the time I was just the marketing manager and didn’t have any say on what went on the stage. As soon as I became executive director, I reached out to Erik.”
Erik is Erik Urycki, the band’s lead vocalist, songwriter and guitarist. The group also includes Sam Kristoff on cello, Kevin Martinez on upright bass and Pat Hawkins on drums and percussion.
“Now I’ll be playing with them, which is still hard to believe,” Urycki said.
Sometimes described as “alternative acoustic” or “chamber pop,” the Speedbumps have developed a loyal following in Northeast Ohio with their engaging live performances and recordings. The band has shared the stage with a number of national acts, including OK GO, Andrew Bird, Chrissie Hynde and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Martinez, who joined the band 18 months ago, played a critical role in making the symphony collaboration possible, beyond his solid chops on bass. Martinez has a master’s degree in music composition from Chicago’s DePaul University, and he volunteered to write orchestral arrangements for the concert.
“He arranged 11 songs in 9 months, which is totally crazy,” Hawkins said. “Having Kevin do this was just amazing for us.”
Martinez used a computer program to work out the arrangements, but it required a good deal of vision to imagine the final product. “The software sounds really cheesy, so they really took a leap of faith that I wouldn’t screw up these songs,” Martinez said.
In the initial meeting, the band and orchestra representatives discussed playing some cover songs or having the Speedbumps play just a part of the concert. But eventually everyone agreed it would be best to feature the band’s original material.
The fact that the band includes two string players did influence Mullaly.
“I love the band’s instrumentation,” Mullaly said. “I love that they have the cello and string bass. It has a unique vibe to it. It’s very different from what you hear nowadays.”
Friday’s concert will have special meaning for Hawkins, as it is dedicated to his father Joseph, who passed away unexpectedly earlier this year. Urycki wrote the song Big Joe as a remembrance of the beloved Canton resident and as encouragement for his band mate.
“It’s a very moving piece and the way the strings play at the end is really incredible,” Hawkins said. “There won’t be a dry eye in the house.”
Initially, the symphony board and some orchestra representatives were a bit unsure about the collaboration, but everyone is now on board. Advance ticket sales have been good, and the buzz is building. After working on the concert for a year, everyone involved is excited to experience the fruits of their work.
“We can’t believe it’s here already,” Mullaly said. “We’re really excited to see it all come together.”
Ashley Brooke Toussant will open the 8 p.m. show. The Speedbumps will play a short set by themselves before appearing with the orchestra. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Canton Palace box office prior to the show.