Vickroy: Band of teachers, alumni rocks Southland
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy June 27, 2014 7:54PM
Four members of the band Staff Infection and the South Side Horns practice at John Elfner's home in Homewood. | Donna Vickroy/Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 30, 2014 6:49AM
How to kick off the upcoming patriotic holiday weekend?
How about rocking to a homegrown rendition of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” or Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ “I Second That Emotion”?
The local rock band Staff Infection and the South Side Horns, a favorite in the south suburbs, headlines Thursday at Homewood-Flossmoor Park District’s Starry Nights concert. The free event kicks off at 7 p.m. in Irwin Park.
The longstanding band plays popular favorites, by popular groups, including the Beatles, the Dave Matthews Band and the Rolling Stones.
It’s the eight-member band’s brass section, those South Side Horns, that enables it to play such hits as Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” and that makes it unique on the local music scene.
So does the fact that all of its members have a connection to Homewood-Flossmoor High School. The group is made up entirely of faculty, staff and alumni, all of whom have a deep love and an impressive talent for music.
Jon Elfner, social studies teacher by day and guitarist by night, is the band’s founder and musical director.
“Brian (Dvorkin) and I were just eating lunch together one day in 2001 and we got to talking about starting a band,” Elfner said.
For a year, they played without a name, just for kicks. Then, after Paul Fasse came on board and they wowed the crowd of students at a 2003 battle of the bands event, they realized they might be onto something. So they formed Staff Infection, figuring it might last a few months.
That was 11 years ago.
Dvorkin, who teaches physics and works as the school’s technology facilitator, plays bass. Math teacher Fasse added another guitar to the mix.
“At first it was just faculty,” Elfner said.
Then the players decided to add a brass element and started recruiting alumni who had played in the H-F band or orchestra. That enabled them to add a lot of Chicago and Motown to their set list.
Lonnie Small was among those recruits. A 2007 graduate, Small is a music education student at Chicago State University. He plays saxophone in the band.
“This is the first rock band I’ve been a part of,” Small said. “It gives me a way to express myself musically.”
Over the years, some 45 to 50 people have performed with Staff Infection. In addition to the regulars, some alumni played short term, some helped out just during summer breaks from college, and some played for a time and now come back for special performances.
All did it for the love of performing, Elfner said.
“We have a really remarkable collection of musicians,” Elfner said.
While the name Staff Infection might make you chuckle, Elfner insists every member of the group is serious about making music.
Fasse said, “We all have legitimate musical credentials.”
Dvorkin played oboe and violin as a child.
Fasse was in a band in college.
“Music has always been a big part of my life,” he said. “For my wife and me, music was our first major connection.”
As much as the players enjoy the camaraderie and bonding that come from meeting outside of school and working toward a common goal, it is being able to share something they love with good friends that makes Staff Infection work, Fasse said.
“We have demanding full-time jobs and busy families and we still find time to get together to practice and perform,” he said.
Steve Banasiak is a science teacher at H-F. He’s played trumpet with Staff Infection for 10 years.
“It’s pretty uncommon to find a local band that has a brass section,” he said. “That’s what makes this band so cool. It got me back into music. I hadn’t played since college.”
Elfner said, “You don’t hear other bands playing ‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?’ unless it’s on a keyboard.”
Other band members include H-F guidance counselor Alicia Rodriguez and H-F alumni Geof Rinkenberger and Greg Matushek.
The group gets some promotional help from Viking Records, a label created in the H-F elective class Industry of Music, which teaches students the business side of the music industry. The program is run by the English department. The record label has recorded and promoted seven student artists. Their work, “Viking Records Compilation 2014,” can be downloaded from iTunes.
“Viking Records put together a promotional plan for us,” Elfner said. It includes photographic stills, social media outreach and a video.
The band plays five to six gigs a year, mostly in the south suburbs. They’ve played Flossmoor Fest (and will again Sept. 6), Homewood Days and Worth Days.
Elfner credits their following to two things: the quality of the music and the popularity of the songs on their playlist.
“We’re designed to please,” he said. “If the audience doesn’t like something, we take it off the list.”
Dvorkin said, “This is not something a lot of people do — get on stage and entertain.”
Especially when there are likely to be students in the audience.
“It’s nice for students to see us in a different context and for us to see them in a different setting,” Fasse said. “We’ll get kids coming up to us saying, ‘Hi, Mr. Fasse. I like your guitar.’ ”
Elfner said the school has been super supportive of the band’s efforts.
“The arts in this community are really big,” he said.
The Starry Nights concert starts at 7 p.m. Thursday at Irwin Park, 18120 S. Highland Ave., Homewood. For more information, visit hfparks.com/programs/starrynights.aspx.
To watch a video of Staff Infection and the South Side Horns, visit