Did you know that 9-1-1 emergency communication was invented in Nebraska, and that the state is the top producer of center pivot irrigation? Chances are if you know those facts, you are a Nebraska history buff or, you may have listened to the hit children’s song, “Right Here in Nebraska” by The String Beans band of Lincoln.
The String Beans founder and lead vocalist Curt Bright wrote the Nebraska song for the band’s second album “Oodles of Noodles” in 2009, and it is one of the band’s most requested songs and is even used in fourth-grade Nebraska history lessons by teachers across the state. Today, The String Beans band entertains and educates kids around the state and will release its 11th album, “Kiss a Fish,” this fall.
Nebraska Family Magazine visited with Curt Bright recently and discovered some interesting facts about this popular Nebraska children’s band.
Curt is a Lincoln, Nebraska, native and taught himself to play guitar when he was 15.
“Almost as soon as I learned to play guitar, I started writing little songs,” Curt said.
He graduated from Lincoln Southeast High School and then studied education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While he didn’t pursue teaching after graduation, he is now using his musical talents to educate kids around the state through his band.
His “day job” involves writing, shooting and editing videos as part of the UNL communications department.
His musical career started in 2004 when he decided to bring his guitar to a bonfire at his brother’s house. His brother, Randy, suggested he sing a silly song he wrote about a polar bear and an alligator back when he was a teen-ager. A teacher at the bonfire thought the song was great and encouraged him to write more.
So, Curt and his brother, Randy, wrote several other songs about dinosaurs and zoo animals, and the teacher invited them to perform for the Norris Elementary School kindergartners in April 2004.
“It was pretty rough,” Curt said. “This was the first time either one of us had ever been in a band, and we didn’t know what we were doing.” His brother did magic tricks in between songs. They were both nervous.
But, the kindergartners and a few parents who came to watch, thought they were a hit.
Some parents at the Norris performance asked the brothers to sing and play at their church, and their band was born.
“Every show we would perform at, someone would see us and say, ‘Why don’t you come to our event,’” Curt said.
They came up with the name for their band while eating string beans for supper at their parent’s house, and they took the band on the road playing many shows for free that first year.
They recorded their first album, “Gophers in Loafers” the following year.
Both Randy and Curt had young children at the time (Randy’s daughter was in that first crowd in the Norris kindergarten), and their children gave them lots of inspiration for songs like, “Kindergarten Blues” and “I Think I Need A Bath.”
“A lot of our song ideas came from our kids – things they would do or say or things they they were involved in – sports and theater and school projects,” Curt said.
As their popularity grew over the next few years, The String Beans would perform more than 100 times a year. They once played in front of a sold-out crowd at the Lied Center for Performing Arts. They also traveled across the state performing at fairs and festivals, nursing homes and other children’s events. They have performed in nearly every town in Nebraska and even in several other states.
They now perform a more manageable 50 shows a year. Randy retired from the band two years ago, and current band members include Curt and drummer Daniel Christian, a former teacher and now full-time musician, and bass player Bret Welstead, who is also a full-time minister at New Covenant Church in Lincoln.
Curt wrote 10 of the songs on the new album, and Daniel wrote two. It will include the “Rocky the Rooster” song Curt wrote for their recent performance at the Wayne Chicken Show.
“We debuted the ‘Rocky the Rooster’ song at the Wayne Chicken Show,” Curt said. “People did not throw rotten vegetables at us, so I consider that a huge success.”
Curt is looking forward to releasing the new album to the world.
“It’s our best one ever,” he said.
Curt, who is now 50, said he doesn’t have a long-term plan for the band, but he will keep writing songs and performing as long as song ideas keep coming to him.
“I never had a plan to become a children’s entertainer,” Curt said. “It just kind of happened by accident, and it turned out to be a lot of fun, and I actually feel like I’m doing something that makes the lives of Nebraska families a little more enjoyable. And, that’s enough for me.”
The “Kiss a Fish” album will be available around Thanksgiving. It can be purchased through iTunes, at Barnes and Nobles stores in Lincoln, the From Nebraska Gift Shop in downtown Lincoln, Chapters Books & Gifts in Seward, on The String Beans website or at any of the band’s live shows.
The String Beans next concert will be August 21 at the Homestead National Monument as part of the eclipse celebration, and they will perform on Saturdays this fall at the Roca Berry Farm. To view a full calendar of upcoming performances, visit the website at www.thestringbeans.com.