When The Naked Waiters, a homegrown Cedar City trio, were announced as third place winners in the 2017 Kanab Balloons & Tunes Roundup 2-Day Battle of the Bands competition, only one band member took the stage.
“I don’t know where my band mates are, but I’ll take it,” Kim Bjerga, a former aviation major from Stavanger, Norway, said, as he stepped onto the stage to collect the $500 prize.
Perhaps the rest of the band was taking shelter from the cold rainy weather, or maybe they were off on one of their infamous adventures, but most likely The Naked Waiters were not in attendance because they simply didn’t expect to win a competition with the many disadvantages they faced.
“I honestly don’t think we will win, but I can’t wait to play!” band member, Clark Holmes, a former undeclared major from Apex, North Carolina, said the night before the performance.
The third band member Andrew Nufer, an SUU alumnus from Hillsboro, Oregon, said he was worried about the cold weather affecting the band members’ abilities to play their instruments, as well as the inconvenient time slot of 11 a.m., the first performance of the day. Since audience voting accounted for 25 percent of the score, performing at a time when most of the audience members had not yet arrived would hurt their scores.
Bjerga added that their band is not the typical musical group one would expect to see at a competition such as this one, referring to their relaxed acoustic sound, consisting of ukulele and guitar with vocal harmonies.
However, regardless of prior expectations, disadvantages and limitations, the band won a $500 award and a chance to perform again as part of the grand finale of the festival. Not only that, but they also received several offers for future gigs and wowed all three judges, who couldn’t think of a single criticism or piece of advice.
“I kinda want to hire you guys and have you follow me and my wife around for a week,” one judge said. “Maybe then she’ll fall back in love with me.”
During their finale performance, the band, all of whom moved to Cedar City when they were young and lived in the small town for the majority of their lives, honored their roots with an original song about the town they call home.
Lyrics from the song are relatable to many SUU students and Cedar City residents, including, “summer’s feeling fine / swimming in the old iron mine,” and, “rolling tires / feeling higher than the rooftops that we climb.”
The three friends have always been passionate about music, made evident by the many sacrifices they have made over the years to pursue their dreams. However, Holmes said they choose to focus on the fun aspects of their career and never take life, or themselves, too seriously.
The night before their opening performance, the band stayed up until 3 a.m. chatting with friends and playing Mario Brothers 3 in their hotel room.
“This is how we warm up,” Nufer joked, as he concentrated on the game. “If we had jitters, this is how we would get rid of them.”
In reality, after performing nearly every week for the past three years in front of audiences as large as 1,500 people, The Naked Waiters said pre-show jitters are a thing of the past. In fact, Bjerga said he can’t remember a time when he felt nervous in front of a crowd.
Among the long list of accomplishments so far, The Naked Waiters appeared on television during the last season of “America’s Got Talent,” won a battle of the bands competition at Gezzo Hall in Provo, headlined at Velour Live Music Gallery and continue to book regular gigs all over the state.
Next weekend, they will perform in front of an expected crowd of 8 - 9,000 people at The Las Vegas/Mesquite Lights Fest, and they are anxiously waiting to hear back from the executive producers of “America’s Got Talent” about their recent audition for the approaching season.
Their performance accomplishments are not the only way the band measures their achievements. Nufer said the pursuit of adventure is almost equally important, and in that regard, the band has been abundantly successful.
Only a few hours after their first performance in Kanab, Nufer surprised his bandmates with the chance to drive a small plane over the Vermillion Cliffs, a free opportunity they found through a connection with a local pilot. This experience was one of many adventures The Naked Waiters have shared during their time together.
“I think we have unique personalities and a unique sound,” Holmes said. “People want to get to know us … It’s cool because when we go to gigs like this, most everybody here (is) trying to sell themselves, just like a band is.” Holmes motioned around to the street vendors and musicians at the festival. “Everyone wants to help each other out, so you end up getting to do a bunch of stuff.”
Nufer said his favorite memories from tour include being invited onto the boat of a sailor named Captain Hawk, performing at a vineyard castle and interacting with musical heroes such as Lionel Richie and jamming with the lead singer of Chicago, Jason Scheff.
Thanks to their musical career, Nufer, Bjerga and Holmes are living the dream. However, Nufer said their band started somewhat by accident. Their first performance together was to a humble audience of two friends in their own home.
During the summer of 2014, Bjerga, Holmes and Nufer agreed to serve food and perform a few songs for a candlelit dinner date in Nufer and Bjerga’s backyard. To the surprise of their small audience, the trio arrived at the table completely naked, except for a few aprons and bow ties. And thus, The Naked Waiters were born.
“We weren’t planning on becoming a band that night,” Nufer said. “It just happened.”
Bjerga said their trio is a perfect mix, with each band member contributing a unique and essential element to their dynamic.
“Andy’s best asset is his instrumental skills and his understanding of music theory,” Bjerga said. “My best asset is my ability to harmonize … and Clark’s best asset is his ability to write music ... He brings the most creative stuff to the group and then Andy and I refine it.”
After their inception during the summer of 2014, the band built their reputation and landed gigs in cities all over the state and country. Eventually, they made the difficult decision to leave behind their friends, family, jobs and home in Cedar City to move to Provo, the musical hub of the state.
“Cedar City was like our best friend, a magical place for us,” Nufer said. “Our first week (in Provo) we wandered around town with our ukes, asking restaurants, event centers, etc. if they needed live music. We started going to every open mic night we could, thus delving into the music scene, getting recognized.”
Their diligence paid off, helping them acquire a fan base in Provo and regular paid gigs, at least one every week.
Though Bjerga said the group loves their new life in Provo, they also relish every opportunity to return to their roots in southern Utah, which they do regularly for gigs at Brian Head Resort, Lake Powell, the farmers’ market in Cedar City and Kanab.
Performing in Kanab offered them an opportunity to return home, one that paid off with another victory to add to their musical resume.
Relative to prior achievements, their latest win at the small festival was not as life-altering as others. However, any victory is cause for celebration for the three best friends. This time they did so by sending off a paper lantern, inscribed with their latest inside joke, a pre-show chant they made up the night before: “Ooga, Chooga, Booga, time to play the Uka.”
The friends stood together, watching their orange lantern disappear into the night sky at the end of yet another great adventure.