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Rock 'n' roll all night, teach all day

by Lacey

Most rock ’n’ rollers throw back shots and talk about the ‘hot babes’ in the crowd. Not Virtue Trap. They drink sweet tea and talk about poetry and classical music at rehearsals. But although they are a band comprised of mostly English professors, they can still make a crowd of 30,000 fans scream for more – except they’ve never had a crowd of 30,000.

Getting its start in 2000 at a University cookout, and undergoing a number of changes in lineup, Virtue Trap is in its 10th year run. And has no plans of letting up anytime soon – despite full class loads and committee obligations, not to mention wives and babies.

Drummer Steve Hamelman, who claims to be the founder of Virtue Trap – he picked the name – and Dan Ennis, bass, are Virtue Trap’s two original members. Scott Pleasant, guitar and vocals, joined the band in 2004. And Virtue Trap’s newest member, Joe Oestreich, guitar and vocals, joined the group this year.

Finding inspiration from bands like Led Zepplin and the Rolling Stones, Virtue Trap plays mostly rock covers but mixes in some high quality originals – if they do say so themselves.

“The AC/DC thing to do would be to skip the third verse and go to the bridge then straight to the chorus,” says Oestreich at a recent practice.

Oestreich is the group’s “legit member,” according to Pleasant. Oestreich, who toured the country as singer and bass player for Watershed, an Ohio-based power pop band, has been in the rock business for more than 20 years. Signing contracts with Idol and Epic Records, he’s been in the big leagues.

But Virtue Trap has had its moments of fame too. In 2007, the band opened for the Doobie Brothers at a sold out show at the House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach.

“I’m a huge fan. And we were so pumped to open for them,” says Pleasant. “But we didn’t get to meet the band – go figure.”

The Grand Strand’s smartest rock band has toured the area performing at venues such as The Boat House, Hard Rock Café, Coastal Ale House and the Brick House Lounge.

But they’ve also had their infamous, slightly more discomforting moments as well. Like the time Arne Flaten, who joined the group in 2003 to sing vocals and play keyboard for seven years, jumped from the stage like “the big boys do,” only to slam his head into an overhanging projector.

“It was one of our more memorable shows,” says Pleasant.

In addition to coordinating the Writing Center, Pleasant, more commonly known as “Plez” to his band mates, is also the editor of Bridges, an online journal devoted to publishing research by CCU’s graduate and undergraduate students. And if he’s not rocking with Virtue Trap, you might find him playing the ukulele.

Ennis, previous chair of the English department, is currently the assistant dean of the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts. Hamelman, the man from Maine, teaches American literature, literary and media theory, and composition. Oestriech teaches creative writing and is the nonfiction editor of Waccamaw.

Between classes, meetings, readings, writing books and everything else in the professors’ hectic lives, they somehow find time to practice – but rarely.

Packed in between a drum set, keyboards, amps, microphone stands and every other piece of equipment needed to rock, the band members find a place to learn music in a back room of Pleasant’s lime green house in Conway. The room is cramped and stuffy and talk of putting in a window AC unit is in the works. But the boys – er, men – make due.

“We should use a classical music influence on this piece,” says Oestriech about a new song the group is learning – “Get Up,” written by Pleasant for a NASA contest in which bands sent “wake up” songs for astronaut use.

“Wow, I’ve never heard the words ‘classical music’ spoken by Virtue Trap before,” laughs Ennis.

According to Pleasant, Oestreich has meshed well with the group, splitting lead vocals with Pleasant when Flaten left the group earlier this year – he needed a break and wanted to spend more time with family.

“When Joe joined, it was a breath of fresh air,” said Flaten. “It allowed me to leave knowing that the band had two good voices (Joe and Scott), both of which are better than mine.” (Flaten jokes that it was Ennis’ persistent halitosis that drove him away).

Virtue Trap’s upcoming shows include performances at the Crafty Rooster in Conway on Friday, Oct. 22 and Friday, Nov. 12.

“It will be nice to sit and watch,” says Flaten. “And listen without having to lug all the equipment in and out at 2 a.m.”

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