Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

The Distractions


Mark Hunter

Whatzup Features Writer

Published September 21, 2006

Heads Up! This article is 16 years old.

The scene at Deer Park Irish Pub, on the last

Saturday in August, was like a birthday party. In fact, it was a birthday

party, a 40th birthday party for a woman named Maureen, or Mary, or something.

She wandered the room with a cardboard crown on her head, smiling and laughing

with well-wishers, who, by the time I got there, had filled the small pub to

overflowing. Tony Henry, Deer Park’s ebullient proprietor, stood behind the bar

chomping a fat cigar while managing a wide grin. Wedged into the only corner

without a door or a beer cooler, beyond the bubbling crowd, the Distractions

launched into another tune. The Distractions – Diane Groenert on bass; Molly

Brogan on guitar; John Brogan on guitar, mandolin and harmonica; and Craig Itt

on guitar, mandolin and slide guitar – were the reason I ventured into the rainy

August night. I don’t know if the Distractions were part of the birthday plan

or if the whole thing was just a happy coincidence, but it got me thinking

about the band and the people at the party and how people at the party seemed

to know members of the band and how I felt like I had been plopped into the

middle of a house party where everyone knew everyone else. It was a comfortable

feeling. The music, a mixture of originals and covers, proved the perfect

addition.

The Distractions have been together since 2002,

when John invited Molly along to sing at a Rockin’ Docs benefit he and Itt were

playing. The exact timeline seems to be a mystery, partly because it just sort

of happened and partly because, well, with a name like the Distractions, you

just can’t, or shouldn’t, expect too much. “We’re not too clear on the chronology,”

Itt said. One thing is clear, however; despite the outward nonchalance, the

Distractions have managed to pen a dozen songs, compile them on a CD and set up

three separate release-date shows. The first will be from 7-9 p.m., Friday

Sept. 29 at One World Café in the Three Rivers Co-op. The final one is slated

for Deer Park Irish Pub from 8 p.m.-midnight on Saturday Sept. 30. But it’s the

one in the middle that sets this CD release weekend apart from the pack.

The cover art for A Dozen

Distractions is a

close-up of a dozen Coney Island hot dogs just waiting to be devoured. In

what’s sure to have some Pavlovian effect the Distraction will play Coney

Island on Main Saturday, 2-4 p.m. Barry White made bras unclasp. Tom Jones made

panties fly through the air. The Distractions will make mouths water.

Why Coney Island? Well, for one thing, Itt grew

up with the first family of Coney Island, the Chokas. One of Itt’s songs on the

CD, “Coney,” describes his favorite meal – three Coney dogs, a chili

and a coke, sitting at the counter on a swivel stool on a Saturday afternoon.

There is a level of comfort and familiarity with

the Distractions that comes from living in the Fort Wayne community for most of

their lives. The group itself is a self-contained extended family. Groenert is

a well known artist and West Central inhabitant. She and Molly Brogan, who runs

a commercial wall covering business, used to perform back in the 1970s as

Mobrodigro. They’d open for Fred Rothert and sing songs at Mother’s and The

Blue Mountain Coffee Company on the Landing, though neither will claim any

responsibility for the eventual demise of the those two establishments.

“We were bad,” Molly said, “way too nervous.”

Groenert first started playing bass after getting

inspired by the Blues Brothers. Both of her contributions on A Dozen

Distractions are

blues songs. The bass, she said, seemed easier than the guitar. “I figured

four strings in columns and rows, I can handle that,” she said. Her first

teacher was the late Jim Sells, another Fort Wayne legend.

John Brogan, Molly’s older brother, in New

Orleans, played in a band called Wyler with his younger brother, Tim, and Fort

Wayne musician Mark Smith, for half a year in New Orleans. “Six months in

New Orleans seems like forever,” he said. He came back to Fort Wayne and

started a commercial painting company. He planned on doing that for five years.

That was two decades ago. He got married to a woman he met in New Orleans, put

his guitars in a closet and got them out only for family gatherings. His family

soon included Itt. “He married my wife’s sister,” John said.

Itt has a long history of playing music. In the

early 1960s he and some high school friends started playing surf rock in a

group called FBC Band. “Then the Beatles came along and we had to start

singing,” he said. FBC Band met with some success, playing across the

Midwest through the early 70s. Then Itt got a nursing degree, and the band

broke up. But he didn’t stop playing. Eventually he earned another degree, this

one in music. Eventually he and John started playing music together in a band

called Gnarled Roots, along with some local physicians, which in turn got them

connected to the Rockin’ Docs benefits, which in turn led to the Distractions.

When Itt showed up at practice one day with a

song he’d written, the others figured they could write songs, too. Call it

sibling rivalry. Before long they had a dozen. Each of the members sings, too,

which gives them a four-part harmonic depth and variety.

“When we get together and those harmonies

start happening, it’s more than therapy,” Itt said.

“I think we’re interesting because with four

singers we have at least 16 different vocal qualities,” Groenert said.

“It’s easier to spend an evening with us cause there’s so much

variety.”

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