Playing in the Wedding Band

Matthew Korbfort

Matthew Korbfort (third from right) with his wedding band at the wedding rehearsal dinner in San Jose, California on June 2, 2023. (photo courtesy of the author)



Matthew Korbfort called me when he was still Matthew Stenfort. I answered the phone in mild amazement. Matthew was in his early twenties and, like everyone his age I knew, he never called anyone. He had never called me. If he was not so young, I would have been full of dread that he was calling to tell me that someone had died, but Matthew was too young to know people who died. I had no clue whatsoever why this young man might be calling me.

Matthew said, “You always told me to take risks.”

Yes, that was true. Matthew had been my student at Washington University in St. Louis a year before when I was really into imparting life hacks to my students. The most important one was to take risks. I was really big into the taking risks thing. In fact, that was why Matthew had my phone number or any reason to call me.

For his culminating research project in my class, I mandated that he, like all the students, take a risk and tell me what it was. A rock drummer, Matthew took the risk of teaching himself how to play guitar to record a few tracks by the Yardbirds, as part of his research project about that classic rock band. When Matthew had trouble finding a campus space to record music, I took the risk of asking my longtime bass player, Dave Melson, if Matthew could record in Dave’s basement studio. We all took that risk, and they recorded some Yardbirds tracks in Dave’s basement.

This would lead to Matthew traveling to Nashville, Tennessee—where Dave and I have free access to a recording studio run by our mutual best friend and fellow band member, Lij Shaw—to record our music with us. (This was after I had submitted Matthew’s final grade for the only course I teach, guaranteeing that he would never again be my student.) We kept taking such risks, and by now, despite being every bit of thirty-five years our junior, Matthew was, in some weird sense, our drummer.

Even so, I had no idea what risk he was calling me about now.

“Yes,” I said, “take risks.”

“OK,” Matthew said. “I am getting married—Cassie and I are getting married.”

I said that was fantastic. Cassie Korb had visited us in the studio in Nashville, and we all agreed she was the greatest rock & roll girlfriend ever. She supported Matthew’s traveling to Nashville to play music for no money with these strange old men. She even tagged along, visited him in the studio, and fit right in.

“I am really excited for you both,” I said. “But I can’t imagine that’s really taking a risk.” Their love was a sure thing, if anything was a sure thing, and Matthew knew that I knew that.

“That’s not the risk,” Matthew said. “I want to ask you guys to be our wedding band.”

I could have dropped dead on the spot. This was literally the cutest thing I had ever heard in my entire life—my former college student asking my former college band to play his wedding.

I used to crack a joke about Matthew being in our band and friends with all us old dudes. I remembered some children’s book where a bird is hatched looking at a tractor, never knows any other birds, and so thinks he is a tractor. Matthew transferred to Washington University as a junior—after getting two years of perfectly adequate and inexpensive college education at a community college back home in northern California. That was one of the things that had impressed me when he was my student: he got a degree from Washington University at roughly half the price.

However, he transferred during the COVID pandemic. I knew as a transfer student it was hard to make friends—I myself had transferred to Washington University in 1985 after one year of U.S. Navy ROTC elsewhere. If I had not gotten lucky and met my lifelong buddies in the campus band scene, I might have graduated with no college friends at all. I could only imagine how much harder it would be to make friends as a transfer student during COVID. Hence my association with that children’s book. We looked like Matthew’s friends the way that tractor must have looked like a mother to that bird.

“Matthew,” I said, “that is literally the cutest thing I have ever heard. It may be the sweetest thing anybody has ever asked me. But, come on. You know what we do. We write these really strange rock songs that no one has ever heard, and those weird songs we write are the only songs we know how to play.”

With impeccable timing that you cannot teach and I certainly had not taught him, Matthew said, “Take a risk.”

We took a risk. We hauled our fifty-something-year-old carcasses to Los Gatos, California and performed in the redwoods for a beautiful bride and groom nearly young enough to be our grandchildren. Their friends were there, also nearly young enough to be our grandchildren. Their families were there. Their parents were younger than we were.

There is a narrative anyone could readily imagine about the former student who joins his former professor’s rock band. In this narrative, the young man is indoctrinated into the rock & roll party all-night lifestyle that his old professor and his buddies cling to, given that we essentially live like rowdy teenagers every time we get together to make music. In this narrative, the kid drummer overdoes it with booze and dope and ages beyond his years every time he goes to Nashville.

Reality was just exactly the opposite. Matthew’s stimulant of choice was soda, and he always was the first to go to bed during our marathon recording sessions. The challenge, on this wedding band journey, was that his parents were churchgoers, Matthew told us, who did not drink alcohol or smoke weed either. We were aging rockers, who if not penniless, were not especially monied. To afford this trip to a far corner of the continent from St. Louis and Nashville, we relied upon Matthew’s family for lodgings. This raised the obvious and frankly ugly notion of, in essence, sneaking beer into Mom and Dad’s house, the drummer’s mom and dad’s house, Matthew’s mom and dad’s house—even if Mom and Dad were both a half-decade our junior.

When we got busted, as one does, Dad explained that he used to drink sake to be a good guest during business trips to Japan. He had no moral qualms with alcohol, and—contrary to a pernicious rumor that was rattling the nerves of at least some members of the band—alcohol would be served at wedding functions. It just so happened that Dad and Mom did not like to drink alcohol. We had gone unnecessarily out of our way in hiding and sneaking in our local beer that first night in San Jose.

My bird and tractor metaphor for Matthew bonding with my buddies and me fell apart, in the end. It turned out that he had college friends his own age. We met them in Los Gatos. They were half of the wedding party. Matthew simply had never seen any reason to mention the fact that he actually had friends of his own his own age that were not us.

Yet, the fact remained that we were Matthew’s college band, and when he wanted his college band to play his wedding, his wedding band was us. I clung sentimentally to the fact that he kept playing music with us after he graduated and left St. Louis for Virginia, and then after he left Virginia to marry Cassie in California. This was the kind of investment you put into your band. We really were his band.

I felt very proud of this fact—so proud that I found myself talking to his mom about it. I shared with her the speech I gave Matthew the first time we played music in Nashville together. It was the only time I had been remotely paternal or mentoring toward him. I got his attention in the studio, looked him in the eye, and said, “You’re going to go to Virginia; you’re gonna get a job in business. But, don’t forget this is here for you in Nashville. Not every musician gets to have a recording studio of their own in Nashville. Don’t forget your music.”

His mom, Lisa, said I did not know how right I was.

In high school, Matthew developed Lyme disease. That partly explained why he went to community college in San Jose for two years—his high school grades had suffered due to his poor health. It was music that saved him. Whatever health problems he had faced and whatever challenges that placed on his social well-being, he was able to play his drums. He was able to play on the drumline. He was able to be a musician. When I offered him a place in our world, as musicians who stubbornly refused to stop making music together, no matter how old we became, I was offering him a lifeline he had needed before.

As we grew to like and confide in each other, Lisa then broke down and told us what she really had thought and feared when she heard that her son was, first, going into a basement with one of his professor’s friends to record music, and then crossing state lines with a bunch of the professor’s friends to play music for an entire weekend in Nashville, where everyone would be rooming together. She admitted that she had maintained constant contact with Matthew as he was driven across state lines. They really had been concerned that we were axe murderers or worse.

Now, here we were, sleeping in their family home, drinking their coffee, meeting everybody in the family, and hanging out together for hours on end.

We drew close to the Stenforts. We are a group of guys, for various reasons, and to various extents, who did not get enough Daddy. Not only did we never quite get enough Daddy. but we were never going to get any more Daddy —our fathers were dead. Sean McGovern, our lead singer, started joking how much he wanted to borrow Matthew’s father. It didn’t matter that Matthew’s father was an entire high school cycle younger than we were. Still, he was a dad, he looked like a dad, he talked like a dad, he was even taking care of us and driving us around. Sean quipped, “Do you think Matthew’s dad would go out back and throw a football with me?”

As usually had happened when we were a viable, traveling band, the gig, in the end, was almost an afterthought along the journey. We rocked. We drank. The crowd drank. The crowd danced. The difference, of course, was we were playing Miley Cyrus songs, not our songs, and half of the audience was nearly young enough to be our grandchildren.

Cassie and Matthew did us a solid in choosing some songs we already knew—that is, some of our own songs. Sean, as a seasoned cover band frontman, was handling all the vocal chores, except one older song I had written—the bride and groom liked the idea of Matthew’s professor, who had dragged him into this mess, getting up and singing a song. They chose my song “Been to West Virginia,” I assumed, in part, because they had moved to Virginia together after graduating from college.

I did not tell them that this song was actually about my first marriage, which had not ended happily ever after. I met the bride on the road playing music in West Virginia and continued to play music on the road after we tied the knot. This was actually a strategic marriage, on my part. She had been subpoenaed as an essential witness in a murder trial shortly after I had broken up with her. The defendant, her ex-boyfriend, had killed her mother’s best friend in Kentucky after she had fled for her life to West Virginia without telling anyone where she went. I could not bear the thought of her going through this murder trial alone—and the only way I could get her to hear that I wanted her back was to propose marriage.

I know—really terrible reason to get married. I know—really inappropriate song to sing at a wedding. But, I take requests, and I kept the backstory to myself as I grasped the mic and sang in cryptic terms about falling in love in West Virginia.

Nothing could have been less relevant than my past chaos of murder trials and broken hearts as we watched Cassie and Matthew exchange vows. They announced that they were combining last names—Korb and Stenfort— and would now be the Korbforts. My favorite moment was hearing the story of the love letters Matthew sent Cassie when she went away to college shortly after they met in their final weeks of the summer after high school graduation. If you took the first word of every letter he ever sent Cassie—starting with the very first letter, right after he met her and she moved away—it spelled out his wedding proposal. I do not weep at weddings—that was you who was weeping at the wedding.

At the party afterwards, we learned that the parents of the bride liked to unwind with a couple of drinks. The father of the bride was an expert—he literally wrote the book—on raising an organized child. Once we were told about his work while being introduced to this supernaturally welcoming and friendly man, it made perfect sense. Of course, Cassie was immaculately organized. That contributed to her being the greatest rock & roll girlfriend ever. What rock musician—what drummer—does not need a little, or a lot, of organization in their lives?

The party was crammed with smart, candid people from northern California. One walked right up to us, looked us head to toe, and said, “I thought the wedding band would be younger.”

Cassie’s grandfather must have been closer to our age than we were in age to the wedding party, although, in my mind, he was clearly an elder and we were just old. Her grandfather was a dentist. He was accustomed to having a captive audience that could not speak and could not fairly be expected to laugh. He was one of those old guys who speaks almost entirely in unfunny jokes. We were a new audience, so throughout the wedding weekend he kept sidling up to us and cracking jokes.

“Did you hear that Martin Scorsese is putting together a movie about famous composers—you know, like Beethoven, Mozart, Handel?” the bride’s grandfather sidled up and said as were setting up to play music at the party. “Well, anyway, he just got a call from Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold told him, ‘I’ll be Bach.’”


The Korbforts celebrate their first wedding anniversary on June 3, 2024. Later that week, Matthew will hit the road to record with the band.