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
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
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