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Family ties lead to Bethel stop for Philadelphia-based band

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Family connections and a stop on the road back from Austin will lead a Philadelphia-based indie-rock band to a concert date at Bethel College Monday, March 17.

Bethel’s own bluegrass band Radar Ray and the Creekbusters will open for the Swimmers in Bubbert’s, located in Schultz Student Center on the Bethel campus. Music starts at 9 p.m. Admission is free.

On March 4, the Swimmers released their debut album Fighting Trees on MAD Dragon Records, the student-run label at Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. On March 1, the Swimmers began a record promotion tour that led to the South by Southwest (SXSW) annual Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas, March 13-14. The band did shows in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chapel Hill, N.C., Houston and Denton, Texas, ahead of SXSW, and will play in Lincoln, Neb., St. Paul, Minn., Madison, Wis., Davenport, Iowa, and Chicago, in addition to the Bethel show, on the way home.

Reminiscent of ’60s British pop, the Swimmers hint at influences such as the Kinks and the Velvet Underground and draw comparisons to contemporaries The Arcade Fire, Spoon and The New Pornographers. The tracks on Fighting Trees comment on suburban America with urban wit and creative sensibilities drawn from both from singer/guitarist Steve Yutzy-Burkey’s Lancaster, Pa., roots and his current life as a carpenter in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Northern Liberties.

Fighting Trees was recorded and mixed at Miner Street Studios, home of renowned Philadelphia producer Brian McTear. Bill Moriarty contributed additional tracking and the rest was recorded in Steve and Krista Yutzy-Burkey’s home studio. The sound of Fighting Trees earned the band a spot on Magnet magazine’s “Ten to Watch” list for 2008.

Steve Yutzy, now the Swimmers’ frontman, met Krista Burkey from Milford, Neb., now the band’s keyboardists, at a sister institution to Bethel College, Goshen (Ind.) College. Krista’s sister, Kendra Burkey, lives in Newton and teaches at Hesston College and Steve’s aunt, Luanne Yutzy, lives in North Newton. These family connections caused the band to put Bethel College on their promotional tour itinerary.

Also while he was at Goshen College, Steve began collaborating with bass player Rick Sieber. Krista and Steve Yutzy-Burkey and Sieber later relocated to Philadelphia, where Steve, responding to a newspaper ad, became a pipe organ tuner. On the job, Steve became friends, and eventually a co-writer, with Scott French, a drummer, as they repaired and tuned massive organs in churches across Pennsylvania.

French wrote “St. Cecilia,” an ode to the patron saint of music that is now recorded on Fighting Trees, on one of these tuning trips. While recording the album, the band returned to many of the same churches to record organ and piano tracks.

Sieber and Steve Yutzy-Burkey have performed together in various groups over the past 10 years, most notably the alt-country band One Star Hotel, which gained a devoted following throughout the eastern United States and northern Europe. More recently, Yutzy-Burkey began to look for a new direction for a group of songs he had been writing, inspired by the John Cheever short story “The Swimmer.” One night late in 2005, while trying out song ideas on an old piano, the four long-time friends decided to begin recording and performing as a group they named for the short story.

The songs on Fighting Trees set Steve Yutzy-Burkey’s deeply personal lyrics to familiar yet unusual pop arrangements. “‘Heaven’ is about returning to my hometown of Lancaster and finding it very different than my idealized memories,” he says of the buoyant, cheerful anthem. “Pocket Full of Gold” peals with clanging bell riffs and bright vocal harmonies while the lyrics tell the story of a person oblivious to the world falling apart around him. One of the more somber tracks on Fighting Trees, “Miles from Our Fears,” is Yutzy-Burkey’s lullaby to “someone afraid of noises in the middle of the night,” he says.

While recording their debut album, the Swimmers began headlining shows and selling out venues in Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Delaware. In the summer of 2007, Bruce Warren, program director for the influential public radio station WXPN in Philadelphia, producer of “World Café,” called Fighting Trees “the best record not released in 2007.” Soon after, MAD Dragon Records picked it up.

The Swimmers’ appearance at Bethel College is sponsored by Student Life and the Student Activities Committee (SAC). For more information, call 316-284-5324.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the highest ranked Kansas college in the national liberal arts category of U.S. News & World Report’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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