Fans of 1970s and ’80s dance and rock music are in for a special treat at this year’s Mille Lacs County Fair. Whiskey Tango, a six-piece band that includes three Milaca High School graduates, will be performing at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9, at the band shell.
The band began to take seed nearly 12 years ago when Craig and Sharon Wallace moved to the St. Cloud area from California. Craig Wallace, a lifetime musician, immediately started looking for a group of like-minded individuals with whom to make music. When his search netted few results, Sharon Wallace gave her husband a new drum set as gift and told him to build his own. She didn’t know then that she’d eventually be swept up into the operation herself.
With his new drum kit in tow, Craig Wallace recruited Ben Poorker, a Milaca native, on bass and lead vocals.
“I met Craig on craigslist, actually, in 2009,” Poorker recalled.
A bass player since the 10th grade, the 2004 Milaca graduate said being a member of Whiskey Tango has helped fulfill his lifelong passion for music.
“I never really listened to the ’80s music before I joined,” Poorker said. “I enjoy it now, but I knew nothing about it.”
Derek Worth, a 22-year-old, 2009 Milaca High School graduate, occupies Whiskey Tango’s lead guitar position and also the label of being the band’s “baby.”
“I am. And they don’t let me forget it,” Worth said, laughing.
Worth heard about the group via social media and would catch a show any time the opportunity presented itself. He became such a big fan of the band that he’d bring his guitar along with the hopes they’d invite him on stage. Sure enough, Worth jammed with them a few times and eventually was asked to join them as a permanent fixture.
He wasn’t even alive during the 1980s, but he’s a big supporter of the era’s music.
“My dad was in a band in the ’80s called Rukus,” Worth said. “I love the energy. I love the songs. I love the response from the audience. We feed off their energy.”
It’s not ’70s and ’80s dance and rock without the keys. Therefore, Craig Wallace brought in Chris Goering on keyboard and keytar. With a bachelor’s degree in composition, and a master’s degree in piano pedagogy, Goering can claim the most professional training in the group.
“My mom was also a piano teacher, so I’ve been playing since I was 6,” Goering said. “She thinks my keytar is crazy.”
When he’s not rocking out with the guys and gal of Whiskey Tango, Goering teaches piano at St. Cloud’s Wirth Center for the Performing Arts. Poorker also teaches guitar lessons there part time.
“It’s all music, all the time,” Goering said. “I’m very happy that worked out.”
Whiskey Tango recently became involved with the “Save the Milaca Band Shell” project and hopes to help organize a disc golf tournament fundraiser. They are planning a show at the Milaca band shell later this year as well.
With the recent opening of the Wallaces’ business, Whiskey Tango has pared back its summer schedule this year from 100 gigs to 70. Most of the band members have full-time jobs and also help Craig and Sharon Wallace with their business. But 70 shows a year is still quite the commitment. It helps, according to Sharon Wallace, that everyone gets along so well.
“We aren’t just a band,” she said. “We’re family. We argue like family. We go on vacations like family.”
Being the only woman in Whiskey Tango, one would suppose that would make her the band mom — but on stage she personifies Stevie Nicks, Cindy Wilson, Joan Jett and the other rock goddesses of the ’70s and ’80s. After all, a band can’t have Journey and no B-52s, Prince and no Pat Benetar, Duran Duran and no Fleetwood Mac and still call itself a ’70s and ’80s band.
“I accidentally fell into this band,” Sharon Wallace said, laughing. “I was never supposed to be a part of it.”
Unlike her younger band mates, Sharon Wallace came of age during the ’80s, a youth she recaptures on stage with all the energy and passion of the era.
“This is my music,” she said.
With the eclectic mix of professionally trained to the self-taught, the generational perspectives and the energy each brings to the stage, Whiskey Tango is sure to put on a great show during the fair. They’re hoping plenty of local fans hop the midnight train to nowhere and check them out this Friday.
“These guys are extremely talented,” Sharon Wallace said. “We really are having fun up there.”