How did a terrible teenage bass player grow up to be a major activist promoting resident musical talent in Utah?
The story begins in when Utahn Jeff Whiteley was 12 and in a band with his brother. They were practicing loudly in a garage, playing a discordant version of Jimi Hendricks’ ‘Hey Joe.’ Whiteley explains, “This Hell’s Angel- type, riding a Harley, hears the music, stops the motorcycle, and drives it right into the garage. Still astride the cycle, he looks at me and says, ‘That’s no way to play bass. Give it to me.’ He said, ‘This is how you do it.’ He came weekly after that to teach us.”
That summer, Jeff learned important lessons He reminisces about a trip to Europe with Lori Decker, his wife. “We went to Paris and thought we’d be there for about two weeks. We stayed at a friend’s place. We had no money, but we had our guitars. So we went down to the Metro subway tunnels to sing and play. But we were terrible. No one threw money into our guitar. But we wanted to stay in Paris. So we kept improving,” Jeff says.
They began making money, which taught Jeff a life lesson about music: “Your joy in what you’re doing has to be greater than their indifference.”
They eventually returned home and started getting bookings. “We were performing at private events here in Utah, but always in the background rarely as performers.
Jeff wondered how to give more prominence to what he considers an unusual amount of great musical talent in Utah. He wondered what would happen if local musicians had a professional stage, professional sound and professional lighting. “That’s where Excellence in the Community started,” he says.
Businessman Mark Hale, one of the owners of Hires Big H Hamburgers, liked Jeff’s idea enough to donate the money to rent a venue. Over 300 people came to that concert. Hale told the Whiteley brothers to keep the profits and continue creating concerts.
In 2011, they did their first show at the Gallivan Center. They’ve since done more than 350 concerts, presenting only local talent.“It’s easy to get someone who already has a name, but I’d rather show that as a community, we embrace quality over celebrity. It’s that European ideal; if it’s good, let’s recognize it. In Utah, we don’t have celebrity, but we do have excellence.”