Story by John Cantor | Assistant Lifestyles Editor
Photos by Reagan McKay and Ellie Fields | Contributing Photographers
Cassie Joy and Iris and the band rocked out this past Monday, September 13 at the Keathley University Center Theater. This group of exuberant student musicians was a part of the organization Middle Tennessee Spare’s student concert series called “Music Mondays.”
As the Fall 2021 semester begins to settle in, several student events and shows are popping up all over campus. Many events have been dormant for over a year or not as widely attended.
Although there have been “Music Mondays” in the past few semesters, students are really starting to take advantage of the exciting and intimate student concerts.
Cassie Joy and Iris and the band are led by Middle Tennessee State University students and singer/songwriters Cassie Sistoso and Blake Burckhard. They each take over keys and rhythm guitar duties. The backing band is a trio of supportive friends who came together just for this show. They include Cooper Thomason on lead guitar, Elijah Alexander on drums, and Oscar Dunn on bass guitar.
“This is me trying to convince them to start an actual band with me,” said Sistoso.
After the group began their set with a new sweet and gentle but driving song by Burckhard, Sistoso welcomed and thanked the audience for coming. During band introductions, she expressed gratitude to her friends who had come together quickly to form her and Burkhard’s band.
“Right now it’s just Cassie Joy and Iris and the band, but I’d rather it be the band, all collectively together,” said Sistoso.
From the very beginning of the show, the joy of performing and playing together was evident. Each member seemed to sport a continuous grin, broken up with moments of laughter and them digging into their collection of personal and moving songs.
Burckhard and Sistoso are not only a musical duo, but a romantic couple as well. Which they were more than open about, singing harmonious love letters to each other on stage.
“So most of this set is pretty much just me and Blake writing songs about each other and then performing it to you,” said Sistoso.
Sistoso joked about playing along on the keyboard to the new song Burkhard had written.
“I’m very proud. He’s performing a song and the whole time I’m like ‘Oh! All the lyrics are about me,’ ” said Sistoso.
Most of their set was filled with original works, covering everything from their aforementioned love for each other to their struggles with mental health during the pandemic. In all of these tunes and lyrics, one could see their musical influences— like Phoebe Bridgers and Briston Maroney— peeking through.
Sistoso shows some of these qualities in her soft vocal delivery on “Garden,” a song she performed solo that somberly reminisces on lost love.
Burckhard hit some power chords with a bit of a bite on “SEDATED,” a song he had the pieces of for over a year before performing it tonight. It deals with the plight of avoidance in an age when many suffer from self-awareness that leads to more emotional and mental fatigue, rather than helping.
Despite dealing with some heavier topics, the band often encouraged the audience who had multiplied significantly throughout the show to get up and jam out to the faster-paced songs.
“We really want you guys to jam out, so if you feel like dancing or if you want to stand up or anything, this next song is gonna be a real banger, just saying,” said Sistoso.
In addition to this audience interactivity, the real-life friendship of the band shone through as they comfortably rocked out with one another, as if they were just at home practicing and letting loose, creating for a more lively show.
Thomason was armed with a Stratocaster, decorated with a swirl of blue and white, like dutch china. He picked and noodled out some very complimentary riffs and solos in each song. He strummed using his pedalboard and Orange amp to add a nice mixture of textures to the original songs of Burckhard and Sistoso.
Dunn brought a thumping steadiness to the ensemble, sporting a vacation casual red and white Hawaiian shirt with sandals. His rhythmic head bobbing guided the flow of many of the songs as he rode up and down the neck of his earthy orange and black bass. He also provided a bird-like whistle to soar over the group’s cover of the song “Acolyte,” by Slaughter Beach, Dog.
Alexander holding everything together from the start gave what each song needed. Whether it was a beat as strong and steady as rain or a softer sweeping with brushes. He ended the set powerfully, as he thunderously pounded the final moments of the band’s last song: a cover of Grouplove’s “Tongue Tied.”
The five musicians ended with a big group hug as the audience full of friends and students looking for something to do on a Monday night applauded.
You can catch more student acts like Cassie Joy and Iris and the band on future “Music Mondays” at the KUC Theater on MTSU’s campus.