Hours before the clink of champagne flutes ring in another new year, Julia Haile testifies to a seated and sober crowd.
"It's your thing," the petite, chestnut-skinned soul singer calls to the urban-outfitted midtowners in the audience.
It's New Year's Eve at the Czar Bar, a rock-and-roll joint situated near the dark underbelly of the Power & Light District.
Do what ya wanna do.
By the middle of the song, when the two trumpets and tenor saxophone behind her reach a gyrating, feverish pitch, friend by hesitant friend pull one another to the dance floor. An irony greater than the tuxedo on the band's longhaired drummer becomes clear: This audience steps to the Good Foot's rhythm.
On the whole, the seven members of the Good Foot, who have converged on Kansas City from Midwestern states such as Nebraska and Iowa, are laid-back. At rehearsals, members casually straggle in. Collectively, they emit a self-effacing sense of humor. And they're taking their recent success with a similar insouciance.
Founded in July 2008, the Kansas City-based soul cover band already attracts a significant following to regular gigs throughout the city and will spend the month of January doing a Tuesday-night residency at Davey's Uptown Ramblers Club. Crowds that were at first small gatherings of supportive friends and family now include a passel of anonymous faces. "People find out about it, and they want to tell their friends," says keyboard player and backup singer Adam Wagner.
Wagner attributes the band's popularity to the scarcity of Motown cover bands. "A lot of musicians want to do original stuff," he says. (The same can also be said for the Good Foot; members say they plan to compose original soul songs in the coming year.) Motown music, Wagner argues, has a built-in universal appeal. "Anybody who grew up with an oldies station in the area kind of, like, knows what we're doing," he says.
The band's co-founder and de facto spokesperson, Wagner fondly remembers watching a 60-something woman dance with his 21-year-old friend at a recent show. "It's just like age doesn't seem to matter. Everybody seems to enjoy it," he says. "If we do our job right," he adds, "people will either be dancing or making out the whole time that we're playing." (Sometime in the middle of their New Year's Eve show, a couple makes out longer than one imagines is possible with normal respiratory function.)
Exact details of the band's genesis are fuzzy. Though Wagner carried around the idea for a Motown cover band in his head for some time, he first broached the topic with guitarist Tim Braun sometime in January of last year — at Davey's Uptown, appropriately enough. They can't recall too many concrete details from a conversation that flowed alongside a spate of beers. "It probably went something like this:
Dude, we should have a Motown band.
Dude, yeah," Wagner says.
Though they often laugh at themselves — drummer David Conarroe's and Wagner's shared day jobs as delivery guys for the Westport Jimmy John's is a deep well of humor — the members take the music itself seriously. During a discussion of the difference between playing in a traditional rock band and playing in a cover band, bass player and backup singer Quentin "Q" Schmidt turns mildly serious, pointing out that covering Motown bands brings the challenge of playing music that people already know well. Wagner echoes Schmidt: "You're talking about some of the better bands in the last hundred years."
Many members of the Good Foot have played in bands throughout the city. But, oddly, it is Julia Haile, the member with the least professional experience, who functions as the band's centerpiece. Until joining the Good Foot through Marshall Tinnermeier, the band's saxophonist and Haile's longtime boyfriend, her live performances were limited to the highbrow stages of musicals and operas.
"Now, instead of elderly people, she gets to perform in front of drunks," Wagner jokes.
Onstage at the New Year's Eve gig, Haile carries an I-don't-suffer-fools-gladly presence. She brings a dose of diva to sedate the band's heavy instrumentation.
By the middle of the set, during "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)," a swarm of revelers dance like born-again Christians to the Good Foot's baptismal funk.
They are happy converts, relishing a band that is turning back the clock at the dawn of a new year.