Making ‘Beard Pop’: How a beloved Iowa cover band became The Pork Tornadoes
RAGBRAI founders Donald Kaul and John Karras are depicted in bronze in the River to River sculpture installed in Water Works Park. Des Moines Register
The Pork Tornadoes are so Iowan it hurts.
The self-described “Band of Iowa,” the four-man group falls into the equally self-created category of Beard Pop — a hipper, more Top 40-focused Dad Rock.
Four middle-aged white dudes sporting a combo of full beards and wire-rimmed glasses, these swine cyclones can move seamlessly from Phil Collins to Beyoncé to Sublime to Coolio, riling up a crowd of Midwesterners faster than an empty container of ranch.
The Tornadoes' party-first sound has made them a darling of RAGBRAI — the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, a weeklong river-to-river journey that sees 10,000 people cross the Hawkeye State on two wheels.
In a normal year, overnight towns would jockey to book the men in their town square, knowing their vibe would ensure a good time. But when traditional RAGBRAI was canceled due to concerns over the spreading coronavirus, the annual bike ride took their celebration digital, hosting web-based challenges and online events for riders missing cornfields and pork chops on sticks.
To end the week, RAGBRAI put together a special Friday night concert featuring the Pork Tornadoes. Riders were asked to either stream the gig or show up to the "Revive The Live" Drive-In Concert at Water Works Park — where social distancing could be ensured.
And show up they did.
Back in the swing of things
Packing the thick grass with cars, some Iowans chose to stay in their vehicles, air conditioning on blast to fight the 90-degree heat, while others got out lawn chairs or plopped on blankets, drinks in the cooler and snacks ready.
"So good to see you all!" Mason Greve, the band's lead vocalist and guitarist, shouted into the mic as the evening got under way.
Performing the 90-minute set Friday was like shaking the cobwebs off, Greve said. In interviews before the show, all the band members said they were ecstatic to get back behind their instruments and in front of a crowd after a five-month hiatus.
For the band — and many in the crowd — this concert series and the end of virtual RAGBRAI felt like a step toward getting things back to normal.
The cover band jammed hits like Collins' "In The Air Tonight," Lorde's "Royals," Justin Timberlake's "My Love," and the '80s smash "Time After Time" by Cindy Lauper.
Fans laid on their horns in appreciation — the official drive-in standing ovation.
“Mike, you're the best," a fan shouted from the crowd as Mike Schulte hammered the drums. Later in the set, Schulte got to hop from behind his set and steal the mic for the rapping portions of Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise."
The band crooned the chorus of fan favorite Chris Stapleton’s "Tennessee Whiskey," and after a celebratory sip with the crowd, the Pork Tornadoes hit their big ending song: Queen Bey's "Halo."
Pork Tornadoes mode
Founded in 2008, the Pork Tornadoes started as a two-man cover band helmed by Greve and Cory Talbot, bass guitarist and vocalist.
"They would change their name all the time to make extra money as a cover band," said Jerry Lorenson, the Tornadoes’ pianist. "They developed a following and fans started to ask them, 'Hey guys, can you stop changing your name all the time so that we can know where to find you?'"
Soon after, Greve and Talbot were listening to the radio on the way to a gig in rural Iowa and the announcer declared, “It looks like a pork tornado!"
Thus, the group name was born.
Loresnon and Schulte were eventually added to the lineup, creating the four-person "worst-named" band in America.
In 2015, the band was asked to play at the RAGBRAI overnight stop in Cedar Rapids.
“The headlining act was the singer from Styx, Dennis DeYoung," Schulte said. "We joked that we were the headliner of the show and it actually went pretty well."
Since then, the band has performed for RAGBRAI in 2017, 2018, 2019, and now again in 2020.
“The thing about RAGBRAI for me is that everyone there is in a good mood,” Schulte said. “Even though they just rode like 60 or 70 miles and they've been doing it for days, they are all in vacation mode, party mode."
The perfect Pork Tornadoes mode.
As the night wound down, Lorenson asked fans to hit their horns to honor RAGBRAI, the newly created drive-in concert series and the return of live music.
For a moment, Water Works sounded like a New York City traffic jam, peppered with cheerful shouts and festive applause.
Echoing throughout Water Works Park, this strange of sound community jubilation truly was music to everyone’s ears.
Sierra Porter covers entertainment for the Des Moines Register. She can be contacted at email@example.com or via Twitter @SierraAPorter95.
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