Steel drum duo to perform in DeKalb


Courtesy Todd Donnelly

Dylan Donnelly (left) and Todd Donnelly will perform 8:45 Friday at Stage Left by Hometown Bar & Grill, 241 E. Lincoln Highway.

By Jamie O'Toole, Columnist

Growing up, steel drummer Todd Donnelly was fascinated by the Carribean sound of steel drums, so he ventured in to forming a band and making his own music. His contagious passion rubbed off on his 2 sons, and on Friday he and his son Dylan Donnelly will perform in DeKalb.

The duo will perform at 8:45 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. at Stage Left in Hometown Sports Bar & Grill, 241 E. Lincoln Highway. Their performance will be a combination of Todd’s original music as well as cover songs he and his band, Mr. Myers, have given their own reggae-rock spin to.

Originally from upper Wisconsin near Minneapolis, Todd was a drummer and piano player at an early age. After his parents took him along on a trip to the Caribbean, his heart belonged to the sweet sound of steel drums.

Enveloping himself in the music of Bob Marley and other reggae artists, he yearned to know how to play the steel drums. The story of how the instrument was made, too, pulled Todd in from the start.

“[They were] made by accident and trial and error,” Todd said. “[It] was originally a gas can.”

At the time, however, NIU was the only college in the country with a steelband. Naturally, this intrigued him.

Todd traveled from Wisconsin to Illinois in 1978 in pursuit of a degree percussion and a well-rounded experience playing steel drums at NIU. He had entered the band just as it began, as NIU started it in 1974.

His junior year of college, he formed the reggae rock band Mr. Myers, named after the alcoholic rum beverage.

“[It was] a joke at the time, and it kinda just stuck,” Todd said.

After graduating in 1982, Todd maintained the band, and continues to play today, although some members have come and gone. The group typically only plays in the summer at festivals and events. Throughout the other seasons he plays solo and with his son Dylan who is a senior at Sycamore High School.

Since the age of 2, Dylan has been playing keyboard and percussion. He started playing in NIU’s community steelband 6 years ago, at the age of 12.

The difference between Mr. Myers’ performance and Todd’s and his son’s on Friday will be a stripped down version of Todd’s songs in the effort to create a duo performance.

Todd would not choose solo over playing with a band, he said. He likes the mix. “There’s less stuff to bring around, [and the sound is more] acoustic and melo and less intense,” Todd said.

Playing solo or in a duo also allows a more personal connection with the audience, as they can throw out requests to play.

It’s fulfilling for Todd to play with his 18-year-old son. It’s the ultimate satisfaction.

“I could never force them into music, but they’ve been around it so much, they’ve grown to love it,” Todd said. “Sometimes I’ll hear them playing my songs, and it’s very fulfilling.”