By Emma Young
If music speaks to us, The Fringe Benefits band’s sound is saying, “Dance, my friends, dance!” According to Larry Swanson, bar manager at Malones of Manassas where the band often plays, “They pack the house with high energy, and everybody leaves feeling dynamite.”
“The instrumentals are phenomenal as are the harmonies, and they play an array that ranges from the ’60s to today,” Swanson continued. “Julianna [Smith], the lead vocalist, brings an energy to the stage that is incomparable. She involves everybody in the entire room in the performance. These guys, they bring it. They make the night an absolute party.”
“The Fringe Benefits are a lot of fun,” said Alyssa Burke, a bartender and server at Lion and Bull in Haymarket, which the band considers its home base. “They engage the crowd, and everyone is always dancing and singing along, having drinks and hanging out having a good time.”
“They share their love for music with the audience,” explained Vickie Peters, a fan from Fairfax regularly spotted at The Fringe Benefits performances. “Their choice of songs brings the crowd together because it fits all age groups. I have so much to say about this great band! They make you feel you’re not just with the band, but with family.”
The spirit of family and friendship permeates The Fringe Benefits. As Smith replied to a question about fans, saying, “We call them our friends,” members of the group spoke over each other to ensure that I understood the relationship they have with their audience. There are no unknown, disrespected “groupies” here. “We call them villagers,” said Gregg Sales, bass guitar player and vocalist for the group. That is, “they are part of our village. They’re our friends and family,” emphasized John Fichtner, guitar player and vocalist, who hosts a huge BBQ each year for friends and villagers met through the band and their performances.
The Fringe Benefits village is all about community. The group plays charity gigs, such as the Haymarket-based Serve Our Willing Warriors, and The Fringe Benefits’ friends, family and band members recently cooked breakfast for SERVE’s Emergency Shelter in Manassas. “We enjoyed getting our hands engaged,” Moore said. “We’ll do it again and again.”
The music the band covers appeals to their diverse audience. On the village green at the Lansdowne Town Center in Leesburg, at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore or during a private wedding reception, you’ll find all races, colors, creeds, ethnicities and ages dancing to their music. “Our goal is to keep people moving. We want people to come and have a good time,” Smith said. “It’s difficult to find a song we would not enjoy playing,” said Bruce Moore, guitar synth player, vocalist and band manager. The band described one of its favorite song mash-ups that solidify their diverse repertoire: “Straight On” by Heart with “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin, followed by “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, and then finished with “Cake by the Ocean” by DNCE.
On the night I attended rehearsal, the band was putting nuanced touches to songs by Flo Rida and Meghan Trainor, while speaking of their love of Motown and classic rock. “Everything is on our song list,” Moore said. That doesn’t mean every song gets played though.
“The songs are targeted to people, to appeal to the people who might come see us,” explained Greg Menke, Fringe Benefits’ drummer. That means the songs, particularly the lyrics, respect their audience. “We wouldn’t play stuff that’s offensive,” Moore explained. For example, Smith said, “I wouldn’t do anything degrading to women. If I won’t let my kids hear it, I won’t sing it.”
That synthesis of sound, from different musical styles, both in the songs and the players, can be difficult, but this is one of The Fringe Benefits’ strengths. “Not everybody thinks the same way as you,” Sales said. “It’s not easy to create a fusion and collection of songs if everyone wants to do their type of stuff. To make the band work, everybody has to give and take,” he said. “Music is both a performance and a science,” Smith noted.
That blend is evident as the band speaks to each other in rehearsal. Statements drift out of the rehearsal studio from various band members like “I just don’t think it works…,” “It might need….,” and “If the other guys do falsetto…,” which lead to “It sounds very close,” “How do we add something more?” And finally to “I’ll do that part then” and “I like what y’all are doing.” “You’ve seen how the sausage is made,” Moore observed. “It’s an interactive and iterative process,” Smith said. “We want to be better and better each time we play.”
In the end, Smith said, “We’re a band that loves to host a party. We work hard to be unique. We want people to have a good time. We want them to be happy, so the clouds part. And the weight is lifted.”
Upcoming performances include a Halloween Party at Madigan’s Waterfront in Occoquan on Friday, Oct. 28, and Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore on Nov. 19, and a no-cover-charge New Year’s Eve Party at Lion and Bull.
So come on out to enjoy great music, great friends and a great band, but get there early any time The Fringe Benefits play. “Every time I have The Fringe Benefits perform [at Malones], I have a packed house,” Swanson explained. “People come in at 10 p.m., and they can’t find a seat. Some come and camp out at 6 p.m. to make sure they have seats. It’s because they’ll know they’ll have a wonderful time.”
For more information about The Fringe Benefits, visit thefringebenefitsband.com or the Fringe Benefits Band Facebook page.
Emma Young ([email protected]) is a freelance writer, mother, wife, and resident of Montclair. This dance-averse woman knows if The Fringe Benefits can get her moving, you’ll love them, too!