COLUMBUS — Steve Wemhoff had to take piano lessons.
His mother made him.
“I hated it,” he said.
But mother always knows best and her insistence paid off as Wemhoff began honing a musical talent that led him to his current role as lead singer of The Back Forty.
The 27-year-old from Humphrey started playing instruments when he was young — first the dreaded piano, then the guitar.
“My mom played guitar in church. It was always sitting around the house. I picked it up and learned how to play it,” Wemhoff said.
He never imagined playing in a band, but that's what happened when he went off to college. At Wayne State, Wemhoff followed The Back Forty, a cover band one of his classmates formed in 2011. Wemhoff eventually found his way into the group as a guitarist and backup singer.
After the lead singer decided to pursue medical school, Wemhoff was thrust into that role. He had been with the band for about a year.
“I didn’t really sing a lot. That took a lot of getting used to,” he said.
He can still recall the first time he took to the stage as the lead vocalist. It was at Oktoberfest in Norfolk.
“Looking back on our first show, the self-improvement for me is unreal. That first show I was so dang nervous. I was forgetting lines. I tried to have the lyrics in front of me,” he said.
Three years later, Wemhoff has dozens of shows under his belt. The Back Forty, which also includes drummer Stewart Havranek of Omaha, bassist Steve Bierman of Fremont and guitarist Nick Wieman of Norfolk, plays 50 to 70 shows a year. They will be performing Sunday for New Year’s Eve at Ramada-Columbus.
All of the members have other jobs.
Wemhoff works at a feedlot and on the family farm. With the distance between the members and work schedules coming into play, it can be difficult at times to fit in practice sessions. When they do get together, each member brings a little something different to the table.
“It’s a fun group because we are all very differently influenced,” Havranek said. “We have guys who have country influence, hard rock, punk, blues.”
Havranek, who was in his first band more than a decade ago when he was 15, joined The Back Forty six years ago. Once in a while, the band performs songs from his favorite group, blink-182. The rotation of cover songs comes from a variety of genres, including modern country, Southern rock and music from the 1980s and '90s.
The members also collaborate to write original tunes.
Wemhoff, who is inspired by country artists, said a couple of his have been performed by the band.
The Back Forty hasn’t expanded much outside Nebraska, but Wemhoff would like to see that change. He is building connections in Nashville with hopes of making it big.
“That’s the main goal," he said. "It’s going to take a lot of work."