Weapon's Airman rocks frontier with cover band

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Nora Anton
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
It's been nearly 24 years since he picked up a guitar for the first time but this weapon's crew chief is showing no signs of slowing down.

Tech. Sgt. John Kehres, 354th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, has been performing with his band, Dystopia, for the past two years in the Fairbanks area. They have enjoyed a certain amount of local and commercial success that most local bands have yet to experience.

"We've opened for the Iron Maidens, Hell's Bells, Eve 6 and The Presidents of the United States of America (among others)," said Sergeant Kehres. "We play whatever gigs we can get; we're hoping to have a busy summer."

This 37-year-old New Jersey native said his first guitar was a Christmas gift from his mother and unlike the seemingly contented musician who performs on stage currently, his first experience with his guitar was a frustrating one.

"It was hard at first, I was like, 'Will I ever learn how to play this thing?'" he said. "But I just kept at it and I learned from playing along to Black Sabbath's Paranoid and a lot of Led Zeppelin."

Sergeant Kehres soon after joined his school band as a bass guitarist.

"I was really just trying to get out of school," he said.

Dystopia plays a myriad of songs from 90s-era bands such as Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains and Rage Against the Machine. They also dabble in other eras of music, covering some songs by the Doors and Finger Eleven.

"We have one original song so far, but it's hard to write our own stuff because we all have families and work."

Sergeant Kehres and his band mates, brothers Justin (vocals) and Rob Smith (bass guitar), and Mitch Higgins (drums), met in 1992 during Sergeant Kehre's first tour at Eielson. In 1999 Sergeant Kehres got reassigned to Pope AFB, N.C., but came back to Eielson afterwards and has been here with his family ever since.

"I met Rob when I first got here, he played drums and I was the bass player in a little blues band," he said. "At that time I didn't really know the other guys that well, Justin was Rob's little brother and I had only met Mitch a few times in passing."

He said the bass player and himself had always talked about throwing a rock band together, but that idea was put on the back burner until one day Rob called him and they decided to do it.

"Two weeks later we were playing on stage at the Blue Loon in front of more than 500 people," he said.

As for their success, the band prefers to stay modest about it.

"I think it's funny that we're a cover band and we get to do all these shows for touring acts, because I think we have some pretty awesome local bands here in Fairbanks," vocalist Justin Smith said of the local music scene.

"We play the songs we like and the songs people like," said Sergeant Kehres, "we play the songs we grew up listening to."

Looking back to almost a quarter century to a teen armed with an appreciation for music and a guitar one may not have guessed the musician and Airman he would become. He's doing what he loves and serving his country at the same time.