The Arts

‘Girl Funk’ band hits all the right notes 

Last Saturday, a new all-girl funk band made up of local middle and elementary school music teachers took the full house crowd at Eastern Front Brewing Company in Mattituck by storm with an eclectic mix of dance-friendly, funk-driven covers.

They ranged from funkified versions of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and the Ashford & Simpson classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” to “Juice” and “Cuz I Love You” by Lizzo and The Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” — what band founder and Riverhead music teacher Meghan Kelly called the band’s “wide range of girl power songs. 

“We felt so much joy,” said Ms. Kelly of the eight member band GUNK, short for Girl Funk. “We felt just joy being surrounded by people who just loved us making music and what an amazing thing to just make music with your friends and feel joy.” 

Ms. Kelly said one of the best parts of the band experience is reimagining pop music as funk songs. 

“There’s definitely a distinct funk sound from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, but I think funk in 2024 is kind of whatever you make it. So I love the idea of taking songs like [Abba’s] “Dancing Queen,” which is not really a funk tune, but then turning it into a funk tune — our way.” 

The band consists of Riverhead teachers Ms. Kelly on tenor saxophone, Crystal Crespo on drums and lead vocalist Dea Ahlgrim, as well as William Floyd teachers Julia Bellante on alto saxophone, Mabel Burgos on keyboards, Gabriella Forgit on bass and Kailey Schnurman on trombone. Rounding out the group is professional guitarist Diana Fuller from the Amy Winehouse tribute band Love Amy.

Many of the veteran musicians are learning their instruments on the fly. 

“Gabriella is a violin player. Mabel is a flute player. Crystal is a trombone player. Kailey is a bassoon player, Julia’s a clarinet player, and I’m a bassoon player. So we’re not even playing the instruments that we studied for four years.” 

Ms. Kelly said the band is less than a year old. 

“We’re like a baby band,” she said with a laugh. “We’re still learning how to work together.”

She said the group came together last summer. 

“This was one of my dreams for the past five years or so — to start an all-girl band. I just thought to myself, ‘how cool would it be to have a group of amazing talented females on center stage playing horns and guitar and bass and drums?’ Because sometimes you don’t see that as often so we’re all just heard collectively, together making music as a girl power.” 

Ms. Kelly first turned to Ms. Schnurman, who jumped on board without hesitation.

“Great,” Ms. Kelly thought to herself. “I’ve got one piece of the puzzle.” 

Ms. Schnurman reached out Ms. Forgit, who was learning to play bass, while Ms. Kelly reached out to her Riverhead colleague Ms. Crespo, who was learning to play drums and said “Absolutely. I want to play the drums.” 

Ms. Kelly recruited Ms. Fuller through a mutual friend, and the pair hit it off from the start, she said. 

“Everything was really coming together.” 

Then came a serendipitous moment.  

The five band members were at Coho Coffee House in Patchogue, “getting to know each other,” Ms. Kelly said. 

They brainstormed and Ms. Schnurman suggested Ms. Bellante, saying “I think she could play saxophone.”  

“Not less than ten seconds later after Kailey said that Julia just randomly walked into the coffee shop. It was like fate.” 

Ms. Bellante signed on immediately.

“We were like, ‘OK, this is happening,” Ms. Kelly said. 

 By late June, 2023, all eight members were in.

They embraced the color pink to accent all their stage outfits, including in some cases bright pink Chuck Taylor sneakers. 

“And then we just like really leaned into it, and it’s just been really fun to incorporate that into our outfits. It’s fun for us, honestly — more for us than it is I think anyone else.”

In August, GUNK played their first gig — an open mic night at the Riverhead Moose Lodge. They did five songs. In the audience was the owner of Eastern Front Brewing Company in Mattituck, and after the show she invited the band to play at her brewery, which they did in December.  

“That was our first official gig where we promoted it and we had two hours-worth of music.”

Another gig followed in February at the Greenport Harbor Brewery, and last Saturday they returned to rowdy full house at Eastern Front Brewing Co. 

Hampton Bays kindergarten teacher Mary Beth Motz and her son, who is in one of Ms. Crespo’s music classes, were in the crowd for the Greenport Harbor Brewery show.

“We were just blown away,” she said. “All the ladies showed up with very distinct styles, but were all wearing pink, and it was just too cute. But then when they played the music, it just blew you away. They were playing songs from every kind of music.

“They played a song by Cake called Short Skirt/Long Jacket, which is not a well-known Cake song, and it blew me away and I was literally screaming. I couldn’t believe they were playing this really out-there song, one of those total wildcards. And they killed it. They played it better than Cake.”

Ms. Motz, who was also at last Saturday’s show, said the women’s stage presence was remarkable. 

“Because they’re teachers, they know how to get their crowd moving,” she said. 

“ They know how to check to see if their crowd is in it or not, and how to change what they’re doing on the spot — because teachers have to do this. So they all have that skill that teachers have to get the kids excited about things. They’ve got the whole participatory-set-motivation-lesson-plan down on how to do a knockout performance, because that’s what teachers do every day.”

The band’s next show is May 4 at Bobbique in Patchogue.