The power of Irish pub music unites HC grads

Johnson Evans Brosius 23w
Cory Johnson ’88 (center) with Steve Brosius ’92 (left) and Jamey Evans ’89, members of the band Keep Britain Irish.

Everyone’s Irish once a year—or, at least, they like to think they are. That’s what Corey Johnson ‘88 has observed playing in the band Keep Britain Irish for over 15 years.

Many initial band member connections were made at Hastings College, he said, including Jamey Evans ‘89 and Steve Brosius ‘92.

“My wife thinks there’s one degree of separation between everything at HC,” Johnson said.

That only scratches the surface of his Bronco network. Johnson’s parents and grandmother are all alumni, and his father (Duane “Bear” Johnson ’57) directed the Hastings College bands for 33 years. All three of Johnson’s siblings also went to HC, as well as his niece and nephew. Coincidentally, Robin Koozer ‘76 was also Johnson’s high school choir director.

This story originally appeared in HC Today.

While Johnson has always considered himself primarily a vocalist, he also grew up playing other instruments, including the trumpet, french horn and guitar. This strong musical foundation led him to participate in both choir and band ensembles at HC, where he studied religion and sociology.

“One of the highlights of the choir career there was that we went and performed at the Avery Fisher Hall in a mass choir doing Verdi’s ‘Messa da Requiem,’” he said. The Avery Fisher Hall in New York City is the home to the New York Philharmonic.

Music continued to play a strong role throughout Johnson’s life, even when he had an office job. After graduating, he moved to Denver, Colorado, where he worked at an adolescent shelter and then Denver Human Services. During his 28 years at the DHS, he performed in weddings and played in a band with his coworkers called the Uncivil Servants.

In 2008, Johnson reconnected with college buddies, including Evans and Brosius, jamming out together in an unfinished basement. Among many different musical tastes, they found a common ground in Irish pub music.

For Johnson, the blending of instruments and harmonies in Irish music are what draw him to the genre. These characteristics also lend a “singalong” quality to it.

“It’s always great when you’re at a gig and you see people singing along with you,” he said.

The name — Keep Britain Irish — is something they came up with so long ago that the origin is almost forgotten. Instead of making a bold political statement, it’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek and punchy.

“It’s more kinda cheeky…the whole idea of the name was, it was to be kind of provocative and ironic,” Johnson said. “Most of the time we just shorten it to KBI.”

The band members kept playing together, and after some encouragement, KBI had its first public debut on March 17, 2008—St. Patrick’s Day.

Unsurprisingly, the Irish-American holiday is always what draws in the largest crowds, Johnson said.

“For us it’s always been our best day of the year. It’s always when we have our largest audience,” he said. “We’ve played for the Denver St. Patty’s day population. It’s a high-energy, high-exposure day for us.”

KBI, which still has four of its original members, now includes Johnson, vocalist, mandolinist, harmonicist and penny whistler; Evans, vocalist and rhythm guitarist; Brosius, percussionist; Jake Stoudenmire, bassist; and Aaron Langton, guitarist.

Leading the party

CoreyJohnson 23wThe group has evolved over the years to incorporate more than traditional Irish pub songs. The band’s set lists now encompass an eclectic mix including covers from Tom Petty, The Who, Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys, Lukas Nelson and Chris Stapleton. Also in the mix are a few original KBI songs that Johnson and another band member wrote.

Through the variety of genres, the through line is the band’s mission statement to “lead the party.”

“There’s people that have their favorite traditional Irish songs, you see them singing along, you’re doing like a Flogging Molly song, Irish punk style, you see people singing with that. You see people sing ‘Galway Girl’ by Steve Earle,” Johnson said. “We choose songs people are familiar with…songs people instantly recognize.”

The band has also slowed down its performance schedule somewhat over the years. Gone are the days of performing a “St. Patty’s Run” of three to five shows the week of St. Patrick’s Day — “Our voices and our bodies don’t hold up.”

Over the past summer, KBI’s monthly performance schedule included an appearance at Jack Quinn’s Irish Pub in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

What keeps the band going after all these years is the simple connecting power of music and the energy of the crowds, Johnson said.

“Every time we get up there (on stage) it just reminds us of why we enjoy doing it,” he said.

These connections radiate out to the venues and communities they perform in. It’s been another form of the “HC connection” for Johnson.

“Another thing that’s been great is the connections with other Hastings College people. We have a lot of HC people who come to our shows that we stay connected with,” he said. “Music brings out something that is very unifying.”

Editors note: Follow along with KBI at and

By Emily Case-Buskirk ‘14

Share this post