Alumni-fueled band rocks for charity

Fresh off their trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland in October to compete in the finals of FORTUNE’s Battle of the Corporate Bands, Aeroroot played to a packed house at Cedar Rapids restaurant and bar The Chrome Horse Saloon on November 14 in support of local flood recovery.

Aeroroot, a band comprised of Mount Mercy Assistant Professor of Business Tracy Tunwall and alumni Clint Landis ’88 and Brett Karminski ’01, and Steve Krusie, has had a busy year — on the competition circuit and playing in support of local charities.

The band competed in FORTUNE’s regional competition at the Key Club on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, Calif., in June and was one of four bands selected to move onto the finals in Cleveland. While in Cleveland, the band rubbed elbows with celebrity judges Tommy Lee of Motley Crew and Jeff Carlisi of .38 Special. Aeroroot was one of only 55 bands that earned the honor of playing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with other regional winners from Los Angeles, Nashville, and London.

Aeroroot's popularity has helped them develop strong local support - and celebrity-like status - as they perform at a variety of venues, not only to entertain, but also to raise funds for non-profit organizations.

As the band prepared to mount the stage in Cleveland to play for thousands of concert-goers for the final competition, they experienced some comic relief that helped calm their nerves. “Before we went on stage for the competition, Brett said to me and the band ‘We are going to rock this place,’ then promptly turned and tripped up the stairs to the stage. No one saw because the stairs were hidden, but it was just like a scene in a comedy. Even funnier is that he did the same thing when we went on the stage for our practice round earlier in the day. Given the nerves and tension at that moment, I thought it offered comic relief,” says Tunwall.

Once safely onstage, the band went into their routine and played an exceptional 15-minute set. “The feeling of accomplishment when I walked off of the stage knowing that we had nailed our performance was amazing,” says Karminski. “It was an amazing feeling to know that we did exactly what we set out to do, we played well and didn’t screw up! We really played our best and had a great time doing it.”

Aeroroot, named after the herb arrowroot and as a tribute to Aerosmith, is made up of four members, all current or former Frontier Natural Products Co-op™ employees. Tunwall, who formerly served as vice president of human resources for Frontier, plays bass guitar and sings back-up vocals. Band members include Landis, lead vocalist and chief marketing officer for Frontier; Karminski, lead guitarist and Frontier brand manager; and Steve Krusie, director of public relations, who plays drums and sings back-up vocals.

This past fall, Aeroroot was contacted by Flood Them With Love, a local organization that assists survivors of the June 2008 floods with immediate needs, about playing at a fundraising event. The event raised $4,400 for flood relief. The organization has raised more than $250,000 with all proceeds going directly to flood survivors.aeroroot3

The band has made it a point to use their talents at music-making to spur fundraising and service in the Cedar Rapids area. They also performed this past summer at the Floodstock Festival in Cedar Rapids, an outdoor benefit concert to raise money for flood recovery. They have also performed for charity functions, including fundraisers for the American Cancer Society and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Last year Aeroroot helped raise over $300,000 for JDRF. The FORTUNE Magazine Battle of the Corporate Bands is also a fundraiser for children through the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“We primarily play for fundraising events and charities,” says Tunwall. “The company that we all worked for at the time we started the band [Frontier Natural Products Co-op™] is very much into corporate and social responsibility … it was a part of how we behaved at work, and was a natural extension for the band to represent the same values. Of course service and volunteerism are important values for Mount Mercy, so it is a great fit for me as a faculty member, and for Brett and Clint as alumni.”

The band also garnered support from local radio station Z102.9, which has led to increased requests for them to play gigs. The radio station and disc jockeys organized a sendoff concert in November for the band, leading to one of Landis’ favorite moments from the entire competition process. “My favorite behind-the-scenes moment was getting in my car after our first interview by our friends Schulte and Swann at Z102.9 and hearing our version of ‘The Kids Are Alright’ playing through my car radio! I turned it up!”

The bandmates admit that without the support of family and friends, their efforts to compete in the FORTUNE competition and ability to play other charity events would be nearly impossible. “I think the spouses of the band members are our biggest fans,” says Landis. “They like hearing us play more than we like hearing ourselves!” Landis, Karminski and Tunwall’s spouses all have a Mount Mercy connection, too. Tunwall’s husband, Mike Stutzman, has served as an adjunct instructor, Kristine Kivisto Karminski is a 2001 graduate of Mount Mercy and Lorie Martin Landis is a 1989 graduate.

“In the end, without that support, we would have never made it as far as we did,” says Karminski.