"Staff Infection" has been playing for two decades, entertaining audiences (once, too enthusiastically) and showing students their non-classroom side.
It’s a sold-out rock show. The crowd is lining up at the doors more than an hour beforehand.
It’s Staff Infection’s biggest gig of the year. The band opens with “Smoke on the Water,” awash in fog, lasers and strobe lights, and throughout the two-hour set, the crowd of 1,000 breaks into ecstatic applause and wolf whistles between numbers. They close with “Stairway to Heaven.”
Sound too cool for school? Not quite.
Staff Infection is made up mostly of teachers at Anoka High.
The band got its start in the mid-1990s, although one of its first performances drew mixed reviews. At a pep fest, Staff Infection got the students so revved up that band members began crowd surfing.
“We played one song, ‘Proud Mary.’ Our principal thought we would lip sync. They were shocked when we tore into that song and rocked it,” said lead singer and guitarist Pat Coffee, who teaches industrial arts. “They came up afterward and said, ‘That’s the last time you’ll be playing pep fest.’ ”
The band has since had its hall pass restored. Each year, they play a pair of charity concerts at the school. They also perform at local bars on their tongue-and-cheek “It’s a Small World Tour.”
“They’re awesome,” said Principal Mike Farley, who wasn’t principal during the pep fest episode. “I don’t know that I’ve ever been at another school where they’ve had [a rock band].”
So you want to be a rock and roll star
Coffee is the founding member of the band, which now has nine members, including its sound engineer. He grew up in a musical family and has played in several bands over the years.
In the mid-1990s, Coffee shared an office with fellow shop teacher Roger Hofmeister, who had played drums in a rock band.
“I found out he could handle himself,” Coffee said. He asked Hofmeister if he wanted to form a band, then recruited other faculty members who had musical backgrounds.
“I got up at a faculty meeting and I made an announcement. The whole faculty started laughing,” Coffee recalls.
But the band slowly came together. Science teacher Scott Birklid, who plays guitar and sings, was an original member. He has some showbiz in his genes; his grandfather was 1940s Fargo, N.D., radio star Lars “Texas Ranger” Birklid.
“It’s so much fun,” said Birklid. “Am I actually doing this? It’s always going through my head. It’s a very out-of-body experience.”
The faculty band played that first pep fest. Initially, there were some nerves about performing in front of their students, but the kids ate it up.
“They were going crazy. We were told we could never do that again,” Birklid recalls. “It was really fun and it became addictive.”
Dialing it down