When Travis Koester received an invitation for his band, The Time Burners, to perform next April in Las Vegas, he assumed that someone was playing an elaborate practical joke.
“When I first got contacted about it, I honestly thought it was a scam,” Koester said. “We are in the process of working on a new album and we wanted to release our new single because it’s been awhile and it’s something a little different. It’s a song called, “Little Wolf Man”, and it’s a rockabilly song. I sent it out to a bunch of the rockabilly stations and places that have played us around the world. I got an unexpected reply (from) one of the stations and it was from a guy named Tom who runs an online rockabilly station and blog.
“He said, ‘I love the song, Travis, I’m going to be playing it here on the station and I wonder if you’re interested in playing (at) Viva Las Vegas next year. I said, ‘Send me an offer contract, we do that to be legit.’ He sent me a contract and it was legit.”
Koester, along with his wife, Becky, will bring their mixture of original rockabilly, country and roots music next April to Las Vegas for the 23rd annual Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend at the Orleans Hotel and Casino just off the Vegas Strip. Their musical experiences began more than 1,000 away from the bright lights of Vegas, right here in Columbus, where they met as members of the Lakeview High School band back in the mid-1990s.
“We met about 24 years ago and we just stuck together,” Koester said. “We were one of those lucky couples who met in high school band and we’ve been together ever since.”
Music has followed Becky and Travis wherever they go. When the duo moved out to Lincoln after tying the knot 19 years ago, Travis started his first group outside Columbus, a blues-inspired operation called Travis and the Flame Cats.
“We were a blues and oldies-type band back then,” Koester said. “We played a lot of venues, traveled around Nebraska and were fortunate enough to do a lot of things and learn the roots of everything.”
The husband and wife in 2014 came together to form The Time Burners, which has taken some of the inspiration for their music from their past groups; which had elements of blues, country and rockabilly. Over the past five years, the group has received rave reviews from audiences of all ages and types.
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“After we started doing it and (seeing) the response from audiences and people in shows, we said, ‘Why didn’t we do this from the beginning?’” Koester said.
After nearly 20 years in the music business, the husband and wife duo can afford to be picky about the shows that they choose to do. While they normally perform for small audiences at coffee shops and senior centers, they have taken time to perform in larger venues, as well. They are regulars in Branson, Missouri, at Branson Landing and their music fits well with the general vibe of that region’s regular acts.
“We play in Branson every two or three weeks,” Koester said. “The Branson Landing has a thing where they select a handful of musicians and we were able to do that this year.”
At a recent tour stop in Columbus, those in the twilight of their lives at The Heritage at Meridian Gardens saw an element of Branson in The Time Burners, reminding them of trips to the Midwestern tourist trap where they saw similar performers.
“A lot of the residents used to go to Branson for vacation (and) a lot of their response to me was that they brought Branson back to them,” said Tami Hey, the life enrichment director at The Heritage. “We have so many people who aren’t able to travel anymore, they’re not able to do those things that they used to and that brought a piece of their home and independence back to them.”
Soon, The Time Burners will be performing on a much bigger stage. More than 20,000 people each year come to The Orleans to see the festival, which will also include a car show, pin-up contest and fashion show, according to the event's website. Big names have taken time out to perform at the festival, including Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Brian Setzer and Brenda Lee. The Time Burners haven’t reached that level of stardom, but next year, they will finally have something in common: they all performed at the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend.
“We’ll just do our show and that’s what they (the audience) will expect,” Koester said. “As I’ve gotten older, we’ve turned down offers to tour out West, just because I don’t want to deal with all that traffic and I thought, ‘We’ve worked really hard at it and it’s the right crowd for the stuff we play.’ We do fit there. It seems a little big for what we’re doing, but it’s been a big year for us.”
Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.