Article by Gina Myers
Photos by Heather Yonka

On Saturday, February 27th, the Banana Convention will take the stage at Bay City's Arlington, the same stage where they played their first show six years ago. The anniversary has given original member Monte Nothelfer the opportunity to reflect on all the band has faced, from a changing cast of band members to an East Coast tour to CD releases. In fact, he has recently taken to write a "History of the Banana Convention," which will tell the complete story in four parts, three of which are already written and available online.

Among his favorite moments, Nothelfer cites winning the Westown Battle of the Bands and getting to open for Foreigner at the Bay City River Roar in front of 10,000 people in 2005. He also mentions the two years they played on Warped Tour, in Pittsburgh in 2008 and in Detroit in 2009, plus their recent East Coast tour where they played Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia and NYC. He sums up his favorite times as "any time we go on the road," but quickly adds, "Really, just the fact that we still get to do this on a regular basis and that people still come out to watch us play is amazing."

The Banana Convention dates further back than their first show at the Arlington in February of 2004. In 1993, Nothelfer began playing in a band under the same moniker. "The band name came from an episode of The Brady Bunch," he explains. "It was the name of a band that Greg Brady joined in the 'smoking is bad' episode. It originally started as a gimmick, a complete joke, really. We were doing the '60s/'70s bubblegum pop thing in punk rock clubs in a sort of Andy Kaufman-esque bit. We did cover songs by bands like The Monkees, Ohio Express, and The Archies." Chris Howard, who plays drums and sings in the current band, was also a member of this original incarnation which lasted about a year.

In 2003, Nothelfer and Howard began discussing the possibility of doing a reunion show. Joining Nothelfer and Howard for the reunion shows were Bil Barrett on vocals, Jeff Cottrell on bass, Drew Sampson on guitar, and Aaron Haefele on keys. After playing three shows, the band broke up that December. However, the Banana Convention then came together as a whole new band with Nothelfer and Howard remaining, but now Josh Jekel was on guitar, Melissa May and Shar Molina shared vocals, and Matt Harvey was on bass. While still trying to stay true to the '70s bubblegum vibe, the band began to write their own songs. "Over time, the gimmick washed away," explains Nothelfer. "We did more and more originals, and we became a 'real' band."

The band has seen members come and go, and Nothelfer claims they've had 39 different members during the course of their entire existence, though he admits the number is a bit inflated since it includes a few people who just joined them on a single occasion to fill-in. When Jekel and May left the band in 2007, the Banana Convention made the conscious decision to move away from bubblegum pop and re-invent themselves as more of a rock outfit. However, it was important that the band maintain the fun and energy of what they had been doing for the previous three years. Anyone who has attended a Banana Convention show knows what kind of a high energy performance the band delivers.

The current line-up of the band has Sean Drysdale on bass and Jake Voisine on lead guitar joining Nothelfer, Howard, and Molina. Joe Balbaugh is a part-time member who joins the band on trombone and guitar from time to time. The band usually arrives dressed in all black and sporting bright yellow neckties. The stage show seems campily choreographed, with Nothelfer and Molina in constant motion, marching and bouncing around the stage. The shows are upbeat and polished. Covers of The Monkees and Ohio Express have been traded for covers of The Cure and Talking Heads, though the band does mostly original material now.   

In 2005, the Banana Convention recorded a five track EP, Ghetto Diamonds. Then in 2007, shortly after guitarist Ray Torres joined the band, the Banana Convention recorded their first full-length album, Dirty Negatives, which they quickly followed up with Freeze Dried Eclectic Singles, a seven track EP. They also recorded a live album at White's Bar for Ray Torres' final show with the band, as he left to pursue his other projects and focus on his family. Once Voisine joined the band, they recorded Taking Back the Fun, which has sold out, but the other albums are available for sale through CD Baby, Amazon, and the band's website.

While the band is looking forward to returning to the Arlington and looking back at the past six years, they still have their sights on the future. This spring they will enter a studio to record a new album to be released this summer. "Once that's out, we will be focusing on a huge push of that and of us, trying anything we can to make that next step beyond a local/regional band and into a more national touring back. The American Dream, and all that," says Nothelfer. The main plans are to "continue to get out there and play, trying to get in front of as many new people as possible and get out music out there."

In addition to the six year anniversary show at the Arlington on Saturday, February 27th, you can also catch the Banana Convention at these other upcoming events:
  • Friday, February 12th, Prime Event Center, 1201 Washington, Ave. Bay City. Show starts at 8PM. Cost is $7.00.
  • Saturday, February 13th, Trolley Stop, 530 E. 5th Street, Dayton, OH. 9:30PM. No cover.
  • Friday, February 19th, White's Bar, 2609 State Street, Saginaw. 9PM. Cost is $3.00.
  • Sunday, February 21st, Pit & Balcony, 805 N. Hamilton Street, Saginaw. 7PM. Benefit for Haiti. Cost is $10.00.
For more information on The Banana Convention, visit http://The

© Gina Myers, 2010