When “Conga Beth” Tschantre sat in with his band in 2013, Joe Roemer said it was obvious she would be the group’s lead singer. But she had other ideas.
There was the “American Idol” competition while living in San Francisco, along with auditions for “X Factor” and “America’s Got Talent,” a recording opportunity in Europe, and, before that, gigging at the Supperclub in Hollywood as “The World’s Sexiest Percussionist.” However, every time she returned to her South Lake Tahoe home, she would play shows with the Roemers.
Conga Beth is back again, this time for good, she says.
“The way we tune in is out of this world,” she said. “I finally signed my name in blood with the Roemers. I’m basically marrying the Roemers.”
The band really is bonded by blood. Its members are guitarist Joe Roemer, his son Ryan on guitar and nephew Matt on bass, Mike McCollum is the drummer, and his daughter is the forceful percussionist who is entertaining the notion of toning down the onstage histrionics in order to focus more on her singing – and, well, that’s just not going to happen.
“I try to not be as crazy on stage but I can’t help it,” she said. “As soon as the hair goes down, boy.”
A person who recently saw the Roemers for the first time walked into the middle of the band’s set at Whiskey Dick’s Saloon. Conga Beth was singing Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” the ballad that builds into a frenzied rock jam, perfect for the musclebound bundle of energy. Coincidentally, it was the last song Conga Beth sang before she was eliminated from “American Idol,” after surviving three days of Hollywood Week.
“Everything happens for a reason,” she said, happy to be home.
“We’re glad she didn’t go any further,” the Roemers patriarch said.
A resident of Tahoma, Joe Roemer started the band in 1982, when it had a regular spot at the Golden Spike. There’s been numerous lineup changes. Ryan and Matt, both 25, joined in 2010. Nephew Matt had been living in the house since he was 13.
“Matt said, ‘I don’t want to play guitar, I want to play bass,’ ” Joe Roemer said. “I said, ‘You’ve come to the right place.’ ”
Matt Roemer was a death metal lover until he heard the music of the jazz fusion band Weather Report, which included revolutionary bassist Joco Pastorius.
“After he heard that, I didn’t hear death metal coming from his room anymore,” Joe Roemer said. “He went from Jaco Pastorius to Charles Mingus to James Jamerson.”
Like his father, Ryan Roemer plays guitar. He had a revelation during his sophomore year at North Tahoe High School. “That’s the first time I felt it,” said Ryan, a diverse songwriter who draws on funk, Latin and country styles.
The Roemers know each other so well that their onstage communication is almost psychic. “Matt will give me one look and I know exactly what to do,” Joe Roemer said.
The dynamics of being a family and a band brings challenges. “Sometimes I have to know when to back off as a dad,” Joe Roemer said.
Matt and Ryan Roemer also have a band, the Savage Patch Kids.
Roemers drummer John Patterson died in 2010.
Joe Roemer found Mike McCollum, a professional drummer since 1970, on Craigslist.
“I had lost my drum set, which was like losing my arms,” McCollum said. “We have a drum set,” Joe Roemer said, lobbying McCollum to come for a rehearsal.
“I thought it would be a lame-ass family band but when I sat in with these guys, I was humbled,” McCollum said. “They are killer musicians. I’ve played from Florida to Alaska, playing all 50 states and in all styles. That’s why the Roemers are cool for me. They play everything.”
McCollum met Conga Beth’s mother at a show near Ashland, Oregon. “She was a great singer. She said she had six kids and I said let’s get married,” he said.
The family landed in South Lake Tahoe when Beth was 11 years old. McCollum and his wife had a band called Turquoise, and the kids babysat each other when they played shows.
“We didn’t have a lot of furniture around the house, but we had a lot of instruments,” Beth said. “I was jumping on my dad’s drum set when I was 6.”
Congas for Christmas were the ideal gift, and by the time she was 16, Conga Beth was a member of Turquoise.
If self-esteem is a characteristic developed from parenthood, McCollum is an excellent father because Conga Beth is anything but unsure of herself.
“I told the children you can be anything you want to be,” McCollum said “We just let them be themselves. And they saw me and their mother making money by playing music.”
Now the father-daughter tandem plays with the Roemers, a blues-based band with appreciation for – in order – The Allman Brothers, Santana, Led Zeppelin and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“We don’t do standard covers,” McCollum said. “It’s an off-kilter cover band.”
And one with a dynamic vocalist.
“Beth is a throwback,” Joe Roemer said. “She sings in all styles, from Dusty Springfield to Zeppelin. … When we play, it’s almost cosmic. It’s our time.”