This local band is all about variety


May 19, 1999


photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

KAKTUS is a variety band in every sense of the word.

The band, whose members all are from Hagerstown, has a repertoire that includes country songs from Patsy Cline and Hank Williams, southern rock by Alabama, Marshall Tucker Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd, top 40 rock, blues and swing.

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It also performs songs written by Bobby Butler, vocalist, bassist and stage manager for the band. He counts "Blow Out the Candles" - a song about a man who's tired of waiting around for his girl while she's out running around - among his favorite original compositions.

"We can play anything. We're all pretty eclectic," says female vocalist Emilie Shantz, 29.

"If you don't play variety, you don't get booked," says pedal steel player Johnny Hawthorne, who has an organ sound-effect attachment for his instrument so he can play rock 'n' roll.


KAKTUS members also have varied careers.

Butler, 38, is a correctional officer. Shantz is in medical publishing and Hawthorne sells window hardware. Lead guitarist and vocalist Doug Wetzel, 48, is a manufacturing engineer. Drummer Mark Mummert, 43, is an electrician.

The members also sport varying personalities.

While on stage, Butler likes to interact with the audience and sometimes dances with people while singing, but he's more of a quiet person when he's not on stage, a trait Hawthorne shares. When asked if he's shy, Hawthorne says, "Yeah, I guess I am," as he picks away at his pedal steel.

Shantz says her highly teased hair reflects her outgoing nature.

Despite their differences, there's a chemistry that binds them together as friends and musicians.

"We all get along. It's like a little family," Shantz says.

Good-natured ribbing was woven between practicing songs on a recent Tuesday evening in Shantz's garage, including cracks about Shantz's hair and Wetzel's age: "He's a good lookin' fella for 48," Mummert says.

When picking tunes for themselves, Butler says they have to be danceable and their voices have to fit the style of the music. They like songs with harmony so Butler, Wetzel and Shantz can show off their vocal cords.

Butler occasionally suggests the group play a song they've never rehearsed while standing in front of an audience. Nobody seems to flinch.

"I think we're all pretty seasoned musicians," says Hawthorne, 46.

Butler, Mummert and Hawthorne played together in the early '90s in a band called New Confederacy. They formed Kaktus Kowboys about three years ago.

One evening while the Kowboys were performing, Shantz stepped out of the audience and asked to sing a few numbers with them.

"She wasn't shy," Butler says.

After that, they talked a bit and she rehearsed with them a few times before joining the group in January 1998. With a female member added to the mix, the guys decided to drop "Kowboys" from their name and stick with just KAKTUS.

Among them, they have more than 130 years of experience.

KAKTUS is putting the finishing touches on its first album, called "Railways," a tribute to Cline and Williams that also features some originals. They hope to release it in the next few months.

The group has performed in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, and shares house band status with Jinx at Log Cabin Inn in Hancock.

Because of jobs and family obligations, the members only rehearse about once a month. But there are no hesitations as they quickly move through Lynrd Skynrd's "Call Me the Breeze," "Hopelessly Yours," a duet originally done by Lee Greenwood and Suzy Bogguss, and John Mellencamp's "Hurts So Good" during rehearsal.

"We're all tuned into one another," Shantz says.

Coming performances of KAKTUS

  • Friday, May 21, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., Cafe on the Rocks, 4220 Tuscarora Road, Point of Rocks, Md.
  • Friday, May 28, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., Log Cabin Inn, 7536 Millstone Road, Hancock
  • Saturday, May 29, 8 p.m. to midnight, Great Cacapon Town Party, Great Cacapon, W.Va.

For information, call 301-739-0570.

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