By Alysa Levi-D’Ancona
No, not one of those fancy Italian cars! Vic Ferrari. You have probably been living under a rock if you haven’t heard of them because they’ve been a staple of not only the Fox Valley but also the greater Midwest. Back in 1988, the rock band started playing a few gigs at weddings, and from there it grew into something bigger than they could ever have dreamed of.
Like the similarly named sports car, Vic Ferrari has got energy, spunk, and horsepower: Mike Bailey as MC, and on vocals and horns; Wayne Peters on vocals and drums; Tom Bailey on vocals, percussion, and trumpet; Russ Reiser on vocals and guitar; Chad Muenster on bass, guitar, harmonica, and vocals; Ron Kalista on vocals and drums; and Aaron Zinsmeister on keyboards and vocals.
Due to popular demand, the group has been playing covers of rock songs since they began, primarily because Vic Ferrari strives to do justice to the artists and songs they cover. “We always try to see if we can do the song well enough. Do we have the right singer for the song?” Reiser explained, “If we don’t have somebody that can sing that style, we’re not going to do it.”
Though the band occasionally sings a little country music and some rock oldies, they mainly jam to classic rock music, playing songs by The Beatles, The Who, Def Leopard, Journey, and many more. They strive to “keep it fresh,” as Reiser put it. “The best part is playing at a new place and winning new people over. You have some new fans,” he grinned. “That’s the fun part about it, that you can win over this crowd and have a great time.”
When they’re not rocking out, doing their 80 shows a year, the members of Vic Ferrari are grooving to their own individual tunes. Reiser gives guitar lessons and has other guitar gigs, both solo and with String Benders; Peters drives a truck; Mike Bailey is a full-time teacher of choral music; Tom Bailey is over at Hyde Music; Kalista works as a booking agent and plays in String Benders with Reiser; and Zinsmeister has a studio called White Raven Audio. “Everybody sacrifices a lot for this band, because we all have other jobs,” Reiser said.
But their busy schedules don’t put a damper on the musicians. They always come back to Vic Ferrari with several beats in their step, always striving to play better than the day before. “We love it when people tell us that we sound better than our record,” Reiser enthused. “It means we’ve improved. We play it better than the recording.” Speaking of records, the group recorded an original album of their own music in the 90s, entitled Son of the Outdoor Mechanic. Though the band enjoys writing their own pieces, they can’t help but slide back into the familiar refrain of rock covers; it’s what the people want.
Perhaps their biggest crowds are for the Symphony shows, which they perform with the goal of doing something special for their fans. Zinsmeister scores and writes all of the music, combining the biggest hits of classic rock into one big symphony. “He’s a genius at that stuff, and he’s the youngest guy in the band,” Reiser acknowledged. “He’s what makes the Symphony possible.”
Zinsmeister might be the brains behind the Symphony, but Reiser stressed how much effort goes into making Vic Ferrari possible from behind the scenes. “It takes all of these different people to make this happen. We have our event production systems, all the fans and businesses that help support us. It’s not just us; it’s a big network of people. And we appreciate it.”
In fact, they not only spread their love of music and rock with their fans but also make sure to give back to the community with every show. “Part of the proceeds go to the Rotary Club,” Reiser explained. With their fans’ help, the group often donates to the Children’s Hospital, and they do benefit concerts for families when they can. Every year, the band organizes a camping trip up north with other bands, resulting in a turnout of almost one thousand fans who raise money to donate to an animal shelter. They’ve even helped out with the Honor Flight Network, which funs a trip to DC for WWII veterans.
Locally, Vic Ferrari strives to support up-and-coming bands––one of their recent favorites being Traveling Suitcase––to give them more exposure. “There are a lot of good bands in the area,” Reiser said. “It’s a good area for music.” When asked what he would advise any aspiring artists in the area, Reiser said, “Do what you love to do. Do it to the best of your abilities. Pay attention to detail. And don’t take your fans’ effort for granted; it should be something special for you and your friends.”
If you’re itching to sing along to your favorite rock classics, Vic Ferrari will be at the SOTR Meyer Theatre in Green Bay on March 8 and at the Capital Civic Center in Manitowoc on March 21, performing their “Symphony on the Rocks” and making sure that their audience is rocking the night away as much as they are. When looking to rev up your own weekend in the Fox Valley, you can count on Vic Ferrari.