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Ladies & Gentlemen, I Give You Kummerspeck 
ArtBeat, Feature

Ladies & Gentlemen, I Give You Kummerspeck  

The Kummerspeck band members pose together for their marketing photo. Members come and go–here left to right: Stacie Burrows, Eric Lynn. (foreground) Patrick O’Connor, Greg Thomas, John Albert, Sam Small, Antonia Bath, Bernie Penzias. Image courtesy of Kummerspeck

The first time I heard Kummerspeck play was at a Halloween Carnival at the Topanga Community Center.

A crowd was milling about, buzzing between the beverage tent, the game booths, and a lawn dotted with blankets and low chairs. Watching the sky develop shades of darkening gray, I probably heard the sounds of children laughing, can tabs being popped, and the jingle jangle of costume accessories. Until one sound cut through it all: heavy guitar chords reverberated through the night, the immediately recognizable sound of a song everybody knew. The guy next to me shouted, “Yeah! Hell yeah!”. Patrick O’Connor strutted onto the stage with all the confidence—and flare—of Mick Jagger. That, my friends, was my introduction to one of Topanga’s most beloved local music groups. This Memorial Day weekend the band will once again grace the grounds of the TCC, Sunday afternoon at Topanga Days, and I’m here to proselytize.

The band was put together in 2015 as a response to a Topanga Elementary fundraiser. The event needed a draw, and the school was replete with talented parents. Those parents included Bernie Penzias, lead guitarist and founder of Kummerspeck. Incidentally, the name is German and means ‘weight gain due to emotionally driven over eating.’ Why that is the band’s name is anyone’s guess—other members simply say, “Bernie thought it was funny, and it stuck.” 

I’m told that Bernie took the stage at Froggy’s with Mike Dimkich, guitarist of Bad Religion fame—and the guy who officially named Kummerspeck—and Gary Weisberg, drummer and husband of kindergarten teacher Amy Weisberg. The trio recruited Patrick O’Connor and Antonia Bath as singers. It was all for kicks, until they realized Patrick was a great showman and Antonia was a marvel behind the mic. 

Over time, the band gained and lost members. Gary Weisberg passed away, and his death was greatly mourned. Kummerspeck soldiered on—it’s what Gary would have wanted—picking up Greg Thomas on drums, John Albert on bass, Eric Lynn on keys, and Stacie Burrows, vocals. 

Kummerspeck is a bit like a magnetic rolling stone, gathering no moss yet somehow attracting what it needs in perfect timing. When Burrows had to duck out of rehearsal early the night I was invited to be a fly on the wall, I nearly got swept into doing her part for the remainder of practice. I could easily see how these things happened: one minute an observer, the next a valued member of the band. Even Tom Mitchell, a fixture in the canyon, occasionally joins on harmonica. It seems to be a well oiled yet flexible collaboration. 

These people are parents, most with kids who are at Topanga Elementary right now, or who have matriculated out. O’Connor is quick to point out, “This band exists because it is a spontaneous outgrowth of the school community. I’m in the band because it is a community building enterprise and because it is rock and roll therapy.” Yes, Kummerspeck does play every Halloween Carnival and many Spring galas—both events are school fundraisers; however, they also play Topanga Days and private events. You won’t hear original compositions. You will hear ear-worm tunes you can’t help but sing along to. Prepare for some Foo Fighters, Alanis Morissette, and possibly Led Zeppelin. 

They are parents and they are working professionals in the entertainment industry, but when you join the band you check your ego at the door.

Take Penzias, for example. Austrian by birth and Topangan at heart, he has been in the States for 26 years, lured by the prospect of a career in the music business. He says he’s always been in music, and humbly quips, “I never learned anything real,” which is a definitive punchline to an unspoken joke, because he’s done it all. He began working as a studio hired-gun guitar player, and is now a producer in his own right with a recording studio in Topanga. 

Antonia Bath (I’ll be surprised if someone reading this article hasn’t at least heard of her), is a matriarch of Topanga Canyon. Hailing from East Sussex, England, Bath logged years as an actor, singer, and voice over artist, including a stint with Cirque Berzerk. All of this seasoned her love of performance and led to the opening of Camp Cabaret. Now in its 24th year, Camp Cabaret instructs kids in musical theater. Bath shares center stage duties with Stacie Burrows and Patrick O’Connor. She also shares costumes, and when I asked what surprises the band might have in store for Topanga Days 2024, Bath replied, “Show up to see what Patrick is gonna wear.” Bath has been known to outfit him in a shiny orange bodysuit David Bowie style, and I personally have seen him don a long silver sequined frock. Suffice it to say, they love a good Rocky Horror Picture Show comparison.

O’Connor’s day job is product development for music equipment, and he currently works for Guitar Center Corporate offices. As a younger man, he was a self proclaimed ‘shoe gazer’, whose influences include The Smiths and Depeche Mode. O’Connor never really sought the spotlight until a work-sponsored battle of the bands contest exposed the rock star within. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

Like everyone else in the band, Burrows wears many hats. She plies her trade as a musical comedian. You may have seen her show, “Mommy Tonk”, praised by the Santa Barbara Independent as featuring “two ballsy broads who sing about parenting, shopping, and recreational drugs.” She is now promoting her latest work, “Laughable”, a musical comedy about her ‘funny little nervous breakdown,’ as she puts it, and is set to take the show to the Hollywood Fringe and Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Eric Lynn brings a funky and organic style to the group with his soulful approach to the keyboard. Lynn’s whole life is in music, whether it’s directing high profile production teams in some of LA’s top recording studios, playing, singing, and writing for The Greenhorn Brothers, a group of veteran pro musicians, or sliding into place with whatever Kummerspeck throws at him.

Tom Petty? He’s all over it. INXS? Give him a minute, he’ll be on top of that too. 

Lynn’s passion for the piano ignited at the age of two. He honed his skills at the prestigious Berklee School of Music, gathering a wealth of knowledge and a deep appreciation for all genres. With over 30 years of experience in the industry, he not only shares his musical expertise with his peers but also his love for creating music. Not content to merely witness the creative output of others, Lynn and his cohorts seem to nurture a desire to do the making/shaking/plucking/humming and jamming that keeps the soul alive.  

Says Lynn, “Simon and Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park was my first inspiration to play in bands. I was blown away by what I heard, and later learned the band was composed of session players. After that, my path became clear.” 

The Greenhorn Brothers take the Topanga Days second stage Sunday afternoon as well, so Lynn is doing double duty that day. After Kummerspeck, you’ll hear a whole different side to his musicality if you saunter over to the community center.

Kummerspeck’s most endearing quality is that they’re not shooting the moon.They’re not trying to get signed to a label, or keep on trend. They simply want to show you a good time. According to Penzias, “The band and the shows we put together are pure fun. I think people get it; people like that we’re having fun on stage.” His statement encapsulates the essence of Kummerspeck—down to their oddball name, it’s all a bit tongue in cheek, a vehicle to let loose and stop taking work so seriously for a change. 

Equally impressive is the genuine support the bandmates give each other. At times during our interview, I wondered if Burrows might not be a publicist in disguise—or perhaps she’d missed her calling. She painted such flattering pictures of the friends she shared the stage with. Sam Small? Burrows tells me he is ‘a visionary, a human jukebox and poet, and the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.’ 

Small is a multi-instrumentalist who also trained at Berklee School of Music. He plays guitar as well as banjo, pedal steel, and dobro. He fronts his own eponymous band, Sam Small, and is a member of the group Man Man. 

Of John Albert, Burrows croons, ‘We’re lucky to share the spotlight with a former GQ model; honestly, he’s a really talented singer-songwriter and bluesman.’ 

Ribbing aside, Albert was discovered in the 1980s and spent the better part of the decade globe trotting with the likes of Herb Ritts and Zoli model management. He prefers to talk about his blues band, Johnny Blue Trio, and the fun he has with the motley crew of Kummerspeck.

Everyone in the band lives in Topanga, or has in the past, but Greg Thomas is the only one who can say he’s a third generation Topangan, by marriage. His kids are fourth generation, and his mother in law was a student back in her day at Topanga Elementary. Thomas helms Exposition Studios, a rehearsal, recording, and production facility in Culver City, with an evolving mobile production branch. He pounds the skins for Kummerspeck and also plays bass for his other bands, Planet of Rhythm and Crooked Tom.

As I watch a Friday night rehearsal, Antonia Bath is giving me Grace Slick vibes. Just like Starship echoed the sounds of Slick’s previous band, Jefferson Airplane, Kummerspeck is a beautiful amalgamation of its members’ collective backgrounds. Unless a member is touring or otherwise engaged, the band practices every week when gigging. That’s quite a commitment for people with kids and incredibly full lives. Time is so precious, best to spend it doing what you love. These days, I love genuine laughs, down to earth people, and no frills rock and roll. Kummerspeck delivers in spades. Sam Small sums it up nicely, saying, “I do this because it reminds me of why I started playing music in the first place.” As their motto goes, play it loose, play it cool, play it loud. 

Sunday May 26th, Topanga Days Main Stage 2pm. 

IG @Kummerspecklive

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