116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A perfect storm of hard work, viral videos with nearly 6 million views and a quirky name have catapulted The Pork Tornadoes to three sold-out shows in the Paramount Theatre and the unofficial attendance record at the McGrath Amphitheatre, both in Cedar Rapids.
The self-proclaimed BeardPop bandmates will be back in action at the riverside amphitheater Saturday night, staging their twist on chart toppers and a teched-out show, which looks like another sellout.
Now that touring is returning, who knows when they’ll swing through Cedar Rapids again. The Tornadoes like it that way.
In the band’s 2018 Uptown Friday Nights appearance, 4,600 people reveled in the beer and band for this standing-room-only show, Schulte noted.
But for the foursome, more popularity doesn’t equal more shows in a given market. If anything, they’re pulling back.
“It's pretty calculated,” said Schulte, 39, of Cedar Rapids. “If you use Cedar Rapids, for example, which is definitely one of our biggest markets, and go back six, seven years, we used to play six to eight shows a year in town. And if you say, ‘Hey, we’re playing tonight at some bar,’ and the person goes, ‘Oh, well, I’ve got something else I'm going to do. No big deal, I'll catch you next month when you're back at the same bar.’”
They don’t want to be that available.
“As you get more popular, you're able to cut back on your shows to make them must-see events, where if you don't see us at McGrath Amphitheatre this summer, you won't see us again until later in the year, if not next year. So you're able to capitalize on the fact that you can get more people to the event, which can then make it a bigger production, so that's kind of our way of thinking.”
And as the band branches out into Omaha, the Twin Cities, Madison, Wis., and Springfield, Mo., that leave less time for appearances in this market.
It’s also getting harder to book larger venues around the Midwest and beyond, since everyone who paused their tours and shows during the pandemic are scrambling to reschedule those gigs.
“I have a feeling that trying to book anything like the Paramount or McGrath Amphitheatre, you're getting close to about a year out. You need to get that date reserved and on the calendar before somebody else swoops in and takes it — like a national or regional act,” Schulte said.
“I think live music is going to make a very big comeback here in the next couple of years. And everybody is going to want to get out and about and get on tour and get on the road and get music in front of people.”
But they haven’t become so big that they’re ready to give up on their day jobs. They might have done that if this kind of popularity came to them in their 20s, Schulte said, but now they range in age from 35 to 40, and are more settled into their lives and homes, and aren’t as inclined to take that risk.
Keyboard player Jerry Lorenson, who lives in Des Moines, is the only one making music his career, playing with several acts, including Pianopalooza.
Otherwise, Schulte sells real estate in Cedar Rapids; lead singer and guitarist Mason Greve, who lives north of Cedar Falls and was among the 100 finalists for “The Voice” television competition in 2014, is a mechanical engineer at John Deere in Waterloo; and bass player Cory Talbot also lives in Des Moines, where he is a manager at Hy-Vee.
Talbot also is the only one without a beard.
“He gets yelled at quite a bit from fans. They say, ‘Where's your beard? Where’s your beard?’ But, you know, it was never about that,” Schulte said. “It just sort of happened. It was never like, ‘Hey, we should all grow beards.’ It just sort of happened.”
Kind of like the band.
"It's a long, kind of crazy story,“ Schulte said.
Greve and Talbot were living in Cedar Falls in the early 2000s, met through friends, and decided to start a band there. Schulte joined about nine years ago, after their initial drummer left. Then Lorenson joined five or six years ago.
“But the interesting point of that, is Jerry was the frontman of an original band called Towncrier, from Iowa,” Schulte said, “and all three of us have played with him in that band, but at separate times. … Now it's all sort of come full circle, as we're all finally together in a band at the same time.”
The Pork Tornadoes launched in late 2007, early 2008, without a name.
“When the band was first forming, they were having trouble thinking of a band name, so they decided to change their name every show,” Schulte said. “They would come up with a ridiculously new, stupid thing for their show, but they quickly realized that it's kind of hard to develop a fan base if you don't stick with one band name.
“So the story goes, they were driving to a show, and they said, ‘Whatever our next name is that we come up with, we’re going to stick with it.’ A tornado had hit a pig farm somewhere in Iowa, and the wacky FM-DJ was talking about it on the radio, saying, ‘There was a pork tornado.’ So (the band members) said, ‘Well, that's a terrible name. Let's go with The Pork Tornadoes.’
“I assumed no one thought we would be a band much longer than a couple more years, so why not have this dumb joke of a name, and it stuck. If anything, it's memorable,” Schulte said. “Whenever we leave the state of Iowa and play elsewhere, like a couple of years ago in California, people said, ‘Well, when I think of Iowa, I think of pigs and tornadoes.’ So it fits.”
In their high school and college years, all the band members were in groups that played original music, hoping to “make it big,” write their own songs, go on tour, sell some albums and get a record deal, Schulte said. But that’s a tough road, trying to get your songs out to the public and build a fan base, he added.
When they came together in The Pork Tornadoes, he said they were ready to “try something different, have fun (and) be able to play some music that our friends could come watch us at.”
“When you're an original band, you gotta put so much time and energy into writing and performing, and in the studio,” he said, so they decided to play the music they like, but put their own spin on the hits.
“Sure enough, it evolved into more than any of us have ever gotten out of original music. We've played in front of more fans through this cover band than any of our original projects combined.”
Playing covers of popular songs gives them “an advantage right off the bat, because everybody knows the song already,” he noted. “You’re not trying to sell them on a new song you just wrote, that they have to become familiar with. With covers, these are tried-and-true, proven songs that people love and associate things with, and have memories around.
“When you can perform that in front of them, maybe somebody’s favorite (musician) is Taylor Swift, but they'll never have the chance to go see her. They can come see us play a Taylor Swift song, and not have to pay $200 for a nosebleed ticket or something like that. I think it's easy access for a lot of people.”
Since he and the others have varying tastes, concertgoers might hear the band’s flavors injected into pop, hard rock, folk music, blues and jazz.
“We can take whatever we're listening to, whatever our lives are that day, and we can almost implant that into the songs that everybody knows and loves. I think it’s become part of who we are.”
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