WXOU celebrates 48 years with ‘Birthday Bash’

Sam Schlenner

They belt out an a capella. He waves her off.

“Stop. Stop.”

“What? I thought that was pretty good.”

“Ko Ko, you have low standards.”

“Well, you married me.”

The Hard Lessons was just one of four local bands that rocked the WXOU Birthday Bash Monday night. Along with Pines, The Hounds Below and Retro Specs, they played a free show at the Oakland Center to a crowd of about a hundred as the radio station turned 48.

Augie Visocchi, guitarist and vocalist of The Hard Lessons, had tongue planted firmly in cheek even when he wasn’t playing:

“WXOU invited The Hard Lessons to play their 46th Birthday Bash. They have won, what, Best Radio Station in the World all three years since. I want to congratulate The Hard Lessons on letting WXOU win these awards.”

WXOU has won College Radio Station of the Year from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters the past three years.

The night started at 7 p.m.

“Welcome early adopters. You get a special treat; you get to eat all the food before everyone else gets here,” said WXOU’s promotions director Scott Hunter before the show.

First up was Pines.

The reverb-drenched sound of vocalist Sam Boyhtari and guitarist Logan Gaval filled the room with soaring harmonies for a half hour. Drummer Anthony Spak’s set wasn’t miked up, but he hit so hard he didn’t need it.

Next was The Hounds Below, featuring frontman Jason Stollsteimer, former vocalist and guitarist for The Von Bondies, who sports a sparkling voice that sounds like Bono. Bassist Adam Michael Lee Padden provided copious background vocals and hair flips, and drummer Will Shattuck thundered away as the band covered the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?”

And then the cake arrived. WXOU’s general manager Patrick Cymbalski showed it off on stage as a trophy.

“Patrick, what flavor do you think this cake is?” someone asked Cymbalski.

“Delicious,” he said.

Up next was Retro Specs, who won WXOU’s Birthday Band Battle for the gig.

“We’re Retro Specs. We’re from Oxford, Michigan, and we skipped school to be here today,” vocalist and guitarist Ian Ruhala said as he took the stage with bassist JJ Stanbury.

During their tight, loud, jazzy set, drummer Kanon Hulbert dropped a stick and resorted to smacking the crash cymbal with his left hand. Spak, the drummer from Pines, dashed for the stick and handed it back to him.

“Free shirt!” shouted Ruhala between songs.

In one movement, a man caught the shirt and tossed it to the girl in front of him.

And who says chivalry is dead?

The band stopped in the middle of their set to sing “Happy Birthday” to WXOU with the crowd.

“Join a band. Make music. Have friends. Have fun,” said Ruhala as the band closed their set.

“Buy Retro Specs stuff too.”

A man with a red baseball cap with “RAD” written in black Sharpie under the brim ambled on stage, picked up a worn brown Fender Telecaster and played a blues riff that induced slow dancing. Augie Visocchi of The Hard Lessons played and sang with his head held high and a wry smile, making the stage his playground.

Korin Louise Visocchi, his wife, who he introduced as Mrs. Ko Ko Louise, sang with acute bluesy power and played the keyboards in a beat up case while she stomped the stage with 4-inch stiletto heels.

“I will personally write a letter to your professor,” Visocchi said as he toyed with the crowd between songs, asking if anyone had an 8 a.m. class.

Visocchi invited a 16-year-old named Tyler onstage and gave him his Telecaster to jam.

“I don’t want him to show me up. Is there anyone in the audience who sucks a little bit more?” Visocchi said as Tyler ripped into E minor as Ko Ko and drummer Steve Warstler backed him up.

The band even stopped so Ko Ko could take a picture of Visocchi with the audience. The crowd happily obliged.

Visocchi and Ko Ko ended the set with a duet in the crowd. Bass drum on the floor, guitar in Visocchi’s hands, they sang a song they wrote together when expecting their first child. The crowd, who was so keen to dance a song ago, simply stood still and watched.

WXOU is funded by tuition dollars, so the student body paid for the free show. Those attending appeared content.

Hunter thought the night was a success:

“…our guests seemed to have a great time. The bands were happy. And here we are, still talking about it the next day.”

Hunter stepped up on stage as the crew was setting up before the show:

“It may not be as luxurious as we thought it would be; there might be two people or a hundred, but we put on the same show for everybody.”