ROCK SPRINGS — For the past six years, local band Wy5 has been getting residents and visitors off their seats and onto the dance floor. From Katy Perry to Journey and even Beastie Boys, the crowd can be heard singing a block away from the venue.
Lead guitarist Cliff Wittstruck is the acting vice president for student learning at Western Wyoming Community College. He is also still Dean of Academic Affairs.
Wittstruck has had the opportunity to perform in many places around the world with Chet Atkins, Bernadette Peters, the Minnesota Orchestra, Jennifer Holliday, Art Garfunkel and as a member of Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band and among others.
“I was really, really lucky,” Wittstruck said. “It was quite interesting, especially with Art Garfunkel because I was a few feet away from him on stage, playing ‘Bridge Over Trouble Water’ with him – it was crazy.”
When Garfunkel needed a guitarist to fill in for a few gigs, it was bassist James Taylor who suggested Wittstruck play with them.
“It was really fun!” Wittstruck burst out laughing. “You never know who you’ll meet.”
Wittstruck believes that a person’s performance shouldn’t be determined by the size of the crowd.
“I had a crazy week, for example,” he shared. “I was in a blues band that opened for James Brown for a while. We started the week doing that, and then I played with a different band during the Chicago Jazz Fest the same week. There were about 20,000 people there.
Later that week, Wittstruck received a call to fill in for a guitarist at a country bar near the stockyards.
“There were three people there!” he’s laughing. “I went from playing in front of thousands of screaming people to three, but no matter how big the crowd was, we did our best.”
Wittstruck has been playing for 50 years.
“My mother played until she was 102,” he revealed. “She died this year.”
His mother and grandmother filled their homes with music as he grew up. They played the piano and the organ.
Andres Segovia scored it.
“He made classical guitar legitimate,” he pointed out. “There are different styles of music that make it enjoyable.”
When Sweetwater County Treasurer Joe Barbuto isn’t in the office, his fingers frolic over the piano keys.
He had his own little trios in college and quartets like Boomslang, which is a blues band, and Blues Nation. Not only is he a keyboard player for Wy5, but he also plays with his band, formerly known as the Joe Barbuto Trio. He recently renamed his band Joe Barbuto and the Cave Crew. They have already scheduled performances.
He has traveled the Rocky Mountain circuit which includes Missoula, Bozeman, Billings and the Denver area.
“I love playing everything. That’s what I love about playing with Wy5 – we play such a wide genre in a few sets ranging from blues, jazz, funk, country to pop rock and even rapping.
“We want to make sure there’s something about the show that everyone will like.”
Barbuto’s parents and grandparents inspired him to play the piano.
He is a big fan of jazz pianist Dave Brubeck and Cyrus Chestnut. He is also a fan of Jon Batiste and St. Paul and the Broken Bones, an Alabama soul band.
“Because of their music, it makes me want to do something new and different,” he said. “To become a better musician.”
He mentioned that local musicians Michael Weiss and Micah Paisley also motivate him.
“A friend of mine was visiting recently and noticed the local musicians supporting each other in Sweetwater County,” he shared. “It’s not about competition.”
“It’s great that local venues support music concerts here,” he noted. “Without them, we couldn’t do it.”
Bassist Dave Jensen has been playing music for 65 years.
“When I was five, there was a guitar lying around at my grandfather’s house and I would pick it up and start playing it,” Jensen said. “My mother played the piano, the accordion and sang.
“There was not a day without music.”
Jensen admires the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix.
“It’s the bass lines that appeal to me,” he revealed. “I actually met Carol Kaye who wrote and performed bass lines for Wrecking Crew in LA, who produced the Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher and many movie soundtracks like ‘Mission Impossible’ – she wrote the bass line for it.”
Jensen met Steve Bailey who is the head of the bass department at Berkley.
“He was a clinician at a rock school in Jackson and while I was there helping he signed one of my bass guitars.”
“Victor Wooten is another bassist I look up to,” he added. “I just love them. I could never achieve what they achieved because they are so awesome!
When Jensen isn’t playing gigs, he teaches guitar lessons at Pickin’ Palace in downtown Rock Springs.
“I like to pass on to others the information that I have learned as a musician,” he said. “I think they would move faster that way.
“Personal instructors can give you that knowledge in months instead of years.”
Jensen was instrumental in starting the annual local Blues and Brews event in Bunning Park. He not only books bands and performs himself, but he’s also one of his store’s sound engineers along with his family.
“It’s one of the busiest days of the year for us!”
Drummer Glenn Tremelling discovered drumming from his father when he was three years old and has enjoyed it ever since.
“The Wy5 band is the first cover band I’ve been in and they’re good people,” he said.
He joined his first band when he was in college, playing mostly original songs.
He was also in local heavy bands such as Break the Fall, Chaos and Wade Wilson Project.
His influences include John Bonham, drummer for Led Zeppelin, Neil Pert, drummer for Rush and Danny Carrey, drummer for Tool.
“They’re not your cookie-cutter drummers, they were really technical and their understanding of timing is insane,” he explained. “It’s really wonderful to hear that. For me, it’s a real art form.
“It’s just not the standard drum beat. They pay attention to phrasing, time signature and where they are. I practice this a lot. »
According to Tremelling, one of the most forward-thinking drummers can do is break the rules.
“Nobody ever heard of what John Bonham did because he didn’t follow the rules,” he said. “I think that’s where creativity becomes reality.”
Tremelling thinks newcomers to the music scene should always “be teachable.”
“No matter how long you’ve been doing it or how good you are, be willing to learn and don’t be afraid to break the rules. Don’t jump into the hard stuff – learn the basics first.
By day, lead singer Jessica Yerkovich is an accountant at Genesis Alkali. She is also a karaoke DJ.
After a tip from her son Todd, Jensen caught her at a “karaoke night” at a local lounge and he asked her if she would be interested in joining Wy5.
“We’re a fun cover band playing music that we hope everyone enjoys,” she described.
Yerkovich has been singing since she was a child.
“I was in a choir all through school but no private lessons.”
His favorite artists are Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, Freddie Mercury and Maynard James Keenan.
She noted that since musicians have jobs and responsibilities, it can be difficult to schedule more shows.
“Our biggest challenge is getting all five of us together for concerts,” she admitted. “We all have busy schedules.”
“I’ve enjoyed hanging out and performing with all of the band members over the years and also with our wide variety of music,” she shared. “One of my favorite hobbies is karaoke and being able to sing anything and everything, so being able to play with a band that has a wide variety of music has been awesome!”