The Crimson White

Student band steps on to festival scene

The Doctors and the Lawyers play at Wakarusa. Photo courtesy of Brass Bradley

Francie Johnson

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Two years ago, in the middle of the wilderness in Ozark, Arkansas, a virtually unknown band stepped onto the smallest stage at Wakarusa Music Festival. That band was The Lumineers, and now, with a platinum single and Grammy nomination for “Best New Artist” under their belts, they are anything but unknown.

Earlier this month, another virtually unknown band – this one made up entirely of University of Alabama students – stepped onto that same stage. The Doctors and the Lawyers spent months preparing for their Wakarusa performance, but as was the case with The Lumineers, lead vocalist Evan Brooks said this won’t be the band’s last adventure.

“We definitely can’t take our foot off the gas pedal,” said Brooks, a senior majoring in financial planning. “We’re definitely in kind of a euphoria phase after Wakarusa, but we can’t get complacent.”

The Doctors and the Lawyers consist of Brooks on vocals, Chris Wilhelm on guitar, Jordan Kumler on drums, Taylor Atkinson on keys and Hayes Turner on bass. Earlier this year, the band won the Birmingham division of the Waka Winter Classic, earning a spot on the 2014 Wakarusa lineup along with headliners The String Cheese Incident, STS9, The Flaming Lips and more.

“I think we had the biggest crowd out of the Waka Winter Classic winners,” said Turner, a senior majoring in biology. “Especially with that kind of competition, people definitely liked us the most and were talking about us the most. People were recognizing me by name.”

The Doctors and the Lawyers played three sets at the four-day-long music festival: one on Thursday afternoon, one on Saturday night and a bonus set on The Music Bus ROCKS!, an Austin, Texas-based bus and traveling music venue that set up camp near festival grounds.

“What’s special about the bus is those set lists aren’t announced,” Turner said. “People don’t know who’s playing at the bus on any given night, so the fact that people who didn’t know who we are just came up and liked our music means more than seeing a name and being like ‘Oh, I should probably like those guys, so I’ll go see them.’ They liked just what they heard, instead of any kind of rumors rolling around.”

Ryan Tarpey, a senior majoring in consumer science and a friend of the band members, attended Wakarusa and saw all three of the Doctors and the Lawyers’ sets.

“There is a high level of potential with a lot of their songs, especially the newer ones,” Tarpey said. “It was nice to see how the songs they have already done evolved to match the festival crowd. They feel like a band who is starting to find their sound and focus on it.”

Performing for live music fans at Wakarusa provided a completely different experience than playing at the bars in Tuscaloosa, Brooks said.

“To have people so into your music everywhere you play, every time you play – there’s not really a better feeling,” Brooks said. “I didn’t realize to what extent that was going to be until we got up there. People had already heard of us when we got up there. People were excited to meet us, excited to hear us.”

The Doctors and the Lawyers received widespread praise from other bands at Wakarusa for their strong social media presence. In the days immediately following the festival, the band saw a jump in Facebook likes, Spotify and YouTube plays, music (downloads and more.)

“If you see a good band at the festival, first thing you do is type it into Google,” Brooks said. “We’re just trying to update [social media] with all the stuff we have from Wakarusa so the people from Wakarusa, when they’re Googling us, they can be like, ‘This is definitely the band that I saw.’ People’s attention spans are really small, so you only have a small window to get that up.”

While The Doctors and the Lawyers might play a few more shows this summer, Brooks said the band’s main focus right now is to save money to buy a van and produce its first full-length album. However, by this time next year, Turner said the band hopes to have a summer chock-full of music festival appearances.

“Bands that I feel like we just blew out of the water, they’re playing all over the place and it makes me wonder: how come we’re not?” Turner said. “We should be doing that. It’s just a little extra push. If these guys can do it, we can definitely do it.”

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Student band steps on to festival scene