The five band members are set up in Dr. Dennis Harmon’s living room, surrounded by the trappings one would expect to find in a rehearsal space.
There are microphone stands, amps and a few extra guitars, as well as a stack of CDs that sits on a nearby coffee table. A few meaningful “mascots” are also scattered about – including a stuffed monkey, a large smiley face and a cardboard cutout of Mr. Spock topped with a beanie.
They kick off their rehearsal by launching into the familiar bluesy shuffle of the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women,” with Ursula Rincker and bass player Dr. Scott Cragin handling vocal duties.
Dr. Casey Cole and Harmon are on guitars, while Scott Snell keeps the rhythm going behind his drum kit.
The band’s name, fittingly enough, is Higher Ed – a reflection of the group’s roots at Missouri Southern. Cragin is a professor of business; Cole a professor of psychology; Harmon is an adjunct mathematics instructor; while Snell is director of the university’s Distance Learning program.
“There were five colleagues at Southern who went to Vegas every year,” says Cragin. “On one of those trips, Casey said, ‘Let’s start a band.’”
They first played together in Cole’s basement, before moving to a more permanent spot in Cragin’s garage. (Having sold that house, the band recently moved their set-up to Harmon’s living room.)
The lineup has changed over the years, with Cragin and Cole remaining as the only permanent members.
“Any time you get a new person in the band, it’s a new band,” says Cole, who serves as the band’s principal songwriter.
Rincker, who provides vocals and lately promotional work, is the newest addition to the band – having joined more than a year ago – and the only non-Southern member. But she’s close enough in proximity, serving as a librarian for Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School.
“My roots are in country music,” says Rincker. “I was in music shows in Branson and Nashville, and sang in a rock band in college. I work with Scott’s sister who is an elementary science teacher. She came up to me one day and said her brother had a band and was looking for another singer.
“So I went to a practice with them, and that was a year and a half ago.”
Asked to describe their sound, Cragin answers with “rock and blues,” while Cole says “modestly … I’d describe our sound modestly,” to laughter from the rest of the room.
He’s being humble. The band has had a warm reception to the handful of gigs they’ve played.
They’ve performed during the Soundcheck series at the Colonial Fox Theatre in Pittsburg, Kan., and they’ll have a return engagement at the North Heights Porchfest event on Saturday, Oct. 12, in Joplin. They’ll also play at Whiskey Dicks on Oct. 19.