SWISHER - When friends of the band attend a Stampede concert, they are usually more than a little surprised.

Although all the members are college students, the musicians in the Independence-based country and classic rock group are seasoned stage performers, drawing as many as 300 fans at some gigs.

"They think it'll just be a guitar and an amp or something," said lead singer Travis McBride, 19. "But we're trying to put on a show, with professional lights and sound."

Plus, they're darn talented. And with many of the members bringing classical and jazz training to the table, their high-energy sets offer a tantalizing taste of improvisation in nearly every song they play.

Stampede, formed in 2004, also includes keyboardist Michelle Reck, 19; guitarist and fiddle player Jessie Drtina, 23; drummer Cory McBride, 23; and upright bass and bass guitar player Riley Scheetz, 20. The band has opened for Josh Gracin, Dierks Bentley and Andy Griggs. And even though not all the Stampede musicians are rabid country fans, they appreciate the genre's ability to reach listeners and meld with other music types.

Sometimes a bit of Bach will pop up in a fiddle solo, while progressive rockers Dream Theater and Gentle Giant influence Scheetz's jams.

"I focus on taking all the music that influences me and (making) it fit with a sound I normally don't play," he said. "It brings a different kind of energy that a straight-up bass player wouldn't be able to bring."

Fans at Swisher's Dance-Mor Ballroom on Friday said they appreciated the band's renditions of tunes by Alabama, Martina McBride and Brad Paisley.

"The atmosphere, the music - I like it all," said 19-year-old Dustin Ealy of Alburnett. "I cancel plans to come here if it's Stampede."

The next year will be a time of transition for the band. Drtina will graduate from the University of Iowa with a degree in biomedical engineering, while Cory McBride will finish his music education and composition studies at the University of Northern Iowa. But for now, Stampede is focusing on the coming months.

In May the band will finish up its winter concert series at the Dance-Mor and move outdoors for the summer season.

The conversion means losing the intimacy of playing to a solid block of supporters, but offers the band a chance to make new fans and cut loose.

"By the time it gets to April or May, we want to get outside and play," said Travis McBride, who also plays guitar. "Outdoors, there's no real limitations. It's just pedal to the metal."

Contact Mary Stegmeir at (319) 291-1482 or mary.stegmeir@wcfcourier.com.

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