High Octane Fuels Indy Percussive Passion

High Octane entertainment group. [M Simpson Photography]

High Octane entertainment group. [M Simpson Photography]

by Allan Brewer

There’s never a lack of noise or slick moves on the race track, and the entertainment group High Octane is making sure there’s no lack of either element off the track this year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The innovative group of musicians has parlayed their “finds” at the automotive scrap heap and parts store into a cacophonous and soul-stirring percussive set of show-stoppers in a little over four years, with “The Sky’s the Limit” plans ahead.

Steve Yoder, the group’s leader and a talented music educator at Lawrence Central High School, recollects how the idea of an off-beat percussion band to entertain the fans at IMS came from his Hoosier upbringing, which included many afternoons at the track with his dad. “My dad took me to the track and mom made me take drum lessons,” he said during a break in performances on Fast Friday.

The group, which has grown its routines into four distinct acts, got its start at Indiana Pacers games playing their distinct brand of drum-line drill music and plastic bucket percussion; and has now morphed into the “Oil Can Crew,” the “Brickyard Buckets,” and more, serving up high-powered dance moves and energetic music to open-wheel fans. With an invitation to appear at the Speedway four years ago, they’ve grown to become a regular feature for lovers of the off-beat and unique in a cookie-cutter world.

“At first I was concerned because we are so different,” said Yoder of the oil-drum riffs, brake-rotor melodies and occasionally gravity-defying band antics, “and the first time we performed here was rough—we didn’t have the polish we have now. Fortunately, the reaction to us was fantastic and we’ve grown with the opportunity to the point where I have to carry business cards to give out to people who inquire about having us perform.”

High Octane is more than just sound, though. Justin Lahr, of Greenfield, cites the skill-sets attendant to marching band and field activities that are ingrained in the musician community in central Indiana as great influencers on the group and its abiding belief in pageantry and the arts. It doesn’t count to be just a great musician with this band: you have to have some “personality” to match the animated antics and aural fireworks they display. Moon-walk, Dougie, dub-step—every dance move you’ve got is likely to be called upon during a typical High Octane afternoon, including playing your instrument while you hang upside down.

Justin has been playing with the group for nine years now, much of it alongside secondary school band-mate Kerry Gant of Indianapolis. “Justin and I started playing together in high school,” said Gant, “just on and off with Steve in drum lines, and then with High Octane at the Pacers games, and now finally here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

Sean Cook, a recent Indiana State grad and a drummer from Avon, prides himself on the most “caffeinated “ performances he can possibly pull off whenever the group is on the prowl around the Pagoda Plaza or any impromptu locale where fans are gathered and looking for a good time. “If at least one person is smiling I’m happy,” he said with a wide smile. “I always try to go two thousand percent, do anything, and give everything to get the crowd involved.”

Kerry Webb, who lives in downtown Indy, is a snare drum percussionist who has been involved in the group since college at IUPUI. He describes the genre High Octane performs as “auto parts specialty music.”

“Some people aren’t sure about us,” he said of the fans experiencing their music for the first time. “Others are totally about it, their kids jumping up and down, dancing, cheering their favorite songs, going nuts.”

The group has received some notable acclaim from IndyCar stars and boasts one 55 gallon oil-barrel autographed by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe. Even the great Mario Andretti has given them a “thumbs up” for their expectation-bending efforts, a treasured symbol of success that the group grins over. And with good reason: a recent set on the Plaza featured the Brickyard Buckets’ musical accompaniment to Skryllex, Michael Jackson, LMFAO and other popular artists one rarely associates with ethanol and aero kits.

Needless to say, an unconventional music group gets its equipment by unconventional means. They describe some of their unique collection of drums, cymbals, lights and ladders as the by-product of dedicated scrounging: brake drums from Firestone and auto parts and salvage stores, jack-stand cymbal mounts from a grandfather’s garage. The silliness is augmented by real musical instruments such as drums from Pearl (generously rotated every six months), supplies from Chops Percussion on Indy’s East side, and Remo drumheads (they are huge gearheads) to name just a few.

With their Speedway success growing and giving them greater exposure, the group has gotten gigs at the enormously-popular annual Fire Department Instructors Conference at the Indiana Convention Center; and this fall will be performing at IMS during the Red Bull Air Races on October 1st and 2nd. They’ve even grown a connection to the Pierce Fire Truck Company, who has created a special “light show” for the group to use during its performances. Information about High Octane outside the confines of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and about its powerful percussive and entertainment performances is available through Steve Yoder, at 317.509.1225.

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