By Zak Keefer
The seven young men often spend their weeknights crammed into a recording studio in Pittsburgh, their legs still stiff from a two-hour trek in the car.
The sacrifice is unique – sometimes they’ll be there past two in the morning. Jobs and classes await them the next day, but that’s rarely mentioned. This is their time. The rest of the world must wait.
“I can’t imagine doing anything differently,” said Bryant Kimball, the bass guitarist who balances road trips with final exams and still finds the time to maintain a 3.5 grade-point average in mathematics. “The band is everything to us.”
The Romantic Era, a seven-member pop-rock group that hits the stage upward of 100 times a year, counts among its members Bryant and his two brothers, Connor and Colin. All three also play Division II football: Bryant and Colin at Mercyhurst and Connor at Gannon.
The band The Romantic Era features the three Kimball brothers, who all also play Division II football.
The Kimballs, a trio of football-playing, guitar-worshiping East Pennsylvanians, happily revel in their chaotic schedules: The Saturday afternoons on the gridiron and Saturday nights on the stage. The road trips, the weight rooms, the long nights in the recording studio, the classes, the games, the film sessions, the jam sessions – they are all but a blur in the haze of pigskin and punk rock.
“It’s tough, balancing football, the band and schoolwork,” said the youngest, 19-year-old Colin. “But we make it work the best we can. When you get to a show, you forget about everything else.”
All three have managed the demands of being a student-athlete for a Division II football program in the lake town of Erie, Pa., while moonlighting on the weekend for their band.
Successful performances on the gridiron and on stage require preparation, togetherness and energy. The Kimballs excel in all.
“People want to see a good performance, and sometimes, a football field isn’t that much different than a concert stage,” said 22-year-old Bryant, who is set to graduate from Mercyhurst in May. “You want to do a great job, and you want to give people a good time. The only difference with our band is when we’re up there, we’re not competing against anyone. You’re just trying to have a good time and, more importantly, put on a great show.”
Over his four-year football career, Bryant started 46 games for the Lakers at free safety. But it is Colin, their father says, who is likely the best athlete of the three. As a freshman cornerback this past fall, he grabbed a team-leading two interceptions.
Colin Kimball, the band's keyboard player, had a successful freshman season on the gridiron at Mercyhurst.
“I can remember one home game, I played pretty well and got an interception,” Colin recalls. “Then Bryant comes up to me. ‘Good game,’ he said. ‘Now hurry up and get a shower in and get over to the show.’ That pretty much sums up what our life is like in the fall.”
It’s a flurry of football fields and concert stages, halftime breaks and encores. Their free time comes at a much higher premium than the typical collegian. How do they manage it all?
“All three are so well-rounded, and I can’t take any credit for that,” said their father, Joe, Mercyhurst’s athletics director and former head football coach. “It’s all because of their mother. She gave up her career as a teacher to raise them so I could pursue mine.”
Heather Kimball, a former guitar player and singer herself, emphasized education and music to her sons. She had them try sports, too. Just about everything stuck.
“She gave them a great base,” Joe said. “She always had them doing something. Playing the piano, playing basketball or football or some sport, you name it. I’m pretty sure they got their height from their mother, their looks from her, their brains and probably their athletic ability, too.”
The three have found time to cement their most prominent passions – football and music – into instrumental components in their adolescent lives. Their drive on the football field, from the early morning weight sessions to the grueling summer practices, mirrors the time and energy needed to continue a budding rock group. Long nights in the recording studio, endless hours on the road traveling from one show to the next – the commitment is not unfamiliar to them.
All those years of playing football provided the foundation.
“Sports and music have always been huge passions for our family,” said oldest brother Connor. “We keep it realistic. We’d love to be rock stars, but in a way, that’s like making it to the NFL. Chances are slim.”
Connor was a defensive back for Gannon, Mercyhurst’s cross-town rival. He graduated in 2011 with a 3.8 GPA in psychology, was president of his senior class and currently works as a mental health professional at the Barber National Institute, which aids mentally challenged youth and adults. When work is over, he belts out lyrics as the band’s lead singer.
“It’s very cool for me to have my brothers be a part of the band,” said Connor, 24, who along with Gannon teammate Ben Griffith formed The Romantic Era three years ago. “It keeps us real busy. Some of us have jobs, some have school. It’s a nightly battle between football and music.”
While Connor sings and Bryant jams on the bass, Colin dazzles on the piano. Griffith handles the drums. Parris Williams, another former Gannon football student-athlete, offers back-up vocals, while Alan Dingfelder, 19, plays lead guitar and Dave Pfister, 25, handles the rhythm guitar. All of them, work as one unit – just like a football team on a Saturday afternoon – deliver their distinct melodies, a hybrid of poppy punk and ragged rock.
They have the same dream that all burgeoning bands have: Hitting it big one day.
The seven of them often spend two nights a week making the two-hour drive to Pittsburgh to record and practice in a studio. On the weekends, they’re hitting stages in Erie and surrounding cities, arriving at the venues around 8 p.m., opening the trailer, unloading their equipment, running through sound checks and making sure the instruments are ready to go.
Then comes the reason why they’re all there – the performance.
“If we didn’t love it, we wouldn’t be doing it,” Connor said.
Bryant, the band's bassist, believes attributes gained from music and football go hand-in-hand.
Once finished, the sweat still dripping from their exhausted faces, they load the trailers. They mingle with fans (many of whom happen to be Mercyhurst or Gannon football players) and spread the word. Most nights don’t wrap up until 2 a.m. Sometimes, all of that comes after playing a college football game earlier that same day.
“There is that discipline we draw from football,” Bryant explained. “I think that helps us in terms of our work ethic. You have to put in the hours of hard work, whether it’s watching film for football or putting in time in the studio to get a song just right. Our years of football have really helped us transition that work ethic to the band.”
The group recently completed a five-day tour, hitting stops throughout Pennsylvania and Ohio. Shortly after, Bryant and Colin were back in classrooms at Mercyhurst, taking a flurry of final exams.
“Lots of studying on the bus,” Bryant said. “But that’s something we’ve gotten used to.”
They’re growing as a band and as young men. The group’s resume already includes opening acts for A-listers like Jason Derulo and the Plain White T’s. With each gig, they’re aiming for an electric performance, to lure in new fans, to increase their exposure. They also never forget to have some fun along the way.
“It’s great to hear people tell you your sons are great athletes or they’re great musicians,” said Joe Kimball. “But when they tell you they’re just great kids? That’s when you’re the most proud.”