Run and Punch: A Brass Passion Project

Photos by Michael Salisbury

The stories of veterans in a niche scene rarely see the light of day. When a band from that scene hits the mainstream, it's hard to ignore. With groups like Something to Do (WI) gaining exposure and leading the charge, Run and Punch is looking to join the fun. The six-piece ska/punk outfit (sometimes 7 or 8, depending on who’s available) strive to extend their reach into the annals of ska history. Run and Punch have played with bands like Big D and the Kids Table (MA), local favorites Deal’s Gone Bad, and historical mainstays like The Toasters (NY). Having collaborated independently with companies like Threadless, MPShows and the now-defunct Double Door, the heads behind Run and Punch have driven their own movement tirelessly for nearly a decade, as well as helped create a larger footprint for Chicago in the ska/punk genre.

(L-R Chris Curtis, Anthony Johnson)

(L-R Chris Curtis, Anthony Johnson)

“It was pretty crazy how we all came together,” says Chris Curtis. He hangs his dreaded head and works to recall specific dates. “I was super quiet when I first started, I didn’t play my first show until the end of freshman year.” 15 years ago at Jones College Prep, Chris, now-managing head and creator of Run and Punch, sat at first chair in the trumpet section. His mother would've preferred the sax, and teased him mercilessly, but never missed a show. Heading the woodwind section was Anthony Johnson, a bear of a man who can play anything from flute to bass clarinet and beyond. Anthony handles scheduling, travel, and outreach for Run and Punch. His position has shifted a bit since those days, from horn to bass and vocals. Chris still plays trumpet and deals snarky commentary between songs while onstage. Their chemistry is obvious, the two of them trading jokes and goofing off with the rest of the band.

In the band's latest restaffing season, Run and Punch added some new blood to their already strong rotation, welcoming guitarist Tom Bopp and drummer Gordon Kratz. Hailing from Florida they bring their own distinct strengths, namely some serious instrumental chops and raw vocal expression. One can almost feel the hand of Laura Jane Grace (lead singer of group Against Me!) in the development of Tom’s playing and singing style. Tom tips his hat to Laura and Against Me! as huge influences for his writing and performing.

(L-R Gordon Kratz, Anne Rakowiecki, Tom Bopp)

(L-R Gordon Kratz, Anne Rakowiecki, Tom Bopp)

At the front of the stage stands Anne Rakowiecki, lead vocalist; blazing red hair and a palpable energy. Having had limited exposure to ska music prior to joining Run and Punch, Anne strikes balance into the group by maintaining her own sound profile and adding to Run and Punch’s already impressive wall of sound.

Another recurring face will be Katie Deamico, a trombone performance grad in her second year of law school. She has a heavy workload ahead, but makes time for the band, attending practices and playing shows in places like Madison. Though she sometimes has a cyclocross race on weekends, Katie will also spend nights out of state with the group on occasion, having animated conversations about music theory with Anthony in the wee hours of the morning.

Katie Deamico

Katie Deamico

Run and Punch’s very first practice space was the basement of a house near 63rd and Kedvale. The gang played a few covers during their first practice, immediately proving their roots as a true ska band. In its infancy in Jamaica, traditional ska music birthed itself out of island-styled covers of American R&B and Motown hits from people like Fats Domino. Nowadays, Run and Punch covers songs by ska groups and otherwise, reaching as far as The Cure.

6 years ago, at a small venue near the Congress theater, the founding members of Run and Punch started organizing. The inaugural Midwest Ska Fest was hosted at Tini Martini Ultralounge; pool and low lights in the front room, slam dancing and cheap shots in the rear. Curtis flipped burgers on the patio while the audience raged inside. The festival has continued, drawing upwards of 500 people a year out to the Double Door, before the venue’s ultimate demise. Though a lack of venue stymied them this year, Chris and Anthony assure me plans are in place to bring the festival back in the coming year.

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For over 15 years, Run and Punch has been in the making. Since its inception the band has been a booster to bands and friends alike, even going as far as to take some superfans on trips to Medieval Times and County Fairs. They're a group that cares, that looks to keep grinding ahead against a mainstream-only music culture, staring into the face of the devil and grinning the entire way.

During our interview I needed to excuse myself, and I listened to the audio captured during my time out of the room. Instantly, Chris snapped into leader mode and polled Anthony and Anne, getting them to come together on a common message to broadcast. Anne spoke up before heading home for the night.

"The only way I'm leaving Run and Punch is if I'm leaving Chicago. If I ever left, I'd look back at my time before the band and wonder what the hell I did with myself! I would have to do some kind of singing gig, we play a couple times a month and it's so much fun. I would have to find something to replace that aspect of my life."

Later, Chris started pontificating, saying "life is like a sampler CD...", "You never know what Ed Sheeran songs will be on it!" interjects Anthony. "Life is like a sampler CD," Chris starts again. "There's upwards and downwards motion to it. Some of my highest highs and some of my lowest lows have been around music, some directly related to this band. I've also had to kick out more people than I ever thought I would... But I've heard people refer to marriages this way... you have good years and you have bad years. "Not too long ago... we had-- a whole year was a bad year." Anthony states. "it's nothing to do about it but keep going."

Catch Run and Punch in action this month as they take their Halloween costumes to a new level dressing up and performing as Big D and the Kids Table, one of their favorite bands. They'll also have a show coming up this winter with Madison's Something To Do, of recent Adult Swim™ fame. Run and Punch is planning studio dates now for an album coming out next year. Check their website for more details and tickets to that show as well as other band updates.