Fairfield Grads Take an Alternate Route

by Alan Bisbort

Alternate RoutesBack in the day, the road to success in America stretched directly from college to traditional careers in the corporate, medical, legal, financial, and academic professions. While this model is still pretty much in play, the global economic downturn in recent years has shifted the ground a bit. The road isn’t as straight as it once seemed to be, and is strewn with occasional potholes and pitfalls.

Some Fairfield University graduates have pulled out the proverbial road map and searched for what William Least Heat-Moon called a “blue highway,” or what Robert Frost called “a road less traveled” – what the traffic engineer calls “an alternate route.” And what route could be more alternate, or what highway potentially more blue, than starting a rock ‘n’ roll band and hitting the road with five guys in a van?

Such is the case of Eric Donnelly ’01 and Tim Warren ’03. This pair of Fairfield alumni has proven that success can indeed be secured on an alternate route. The name of their five-member band, The Alternate Routes, is both prophetic and perfectly descriptive of their post-graduate lives.

The Alternate Routes create a big sound, which does not mean they are needlessly loud or pyrotechnic. Rather, their music has a symphonic sweep and is driven by deep emotion and sincerity, which comes across in Warren’s vocals as well as the interplay of the instruments. Though both of their studio albums were recorded in Nashville and produced by Jay Joyce (who has produced albums by John Hiatt and Patty Griffin), theirs is decidedly rock music, not country. And its power comes from within, not from any attempts to emulate other performers. Since 2003, The Alternate Routes – with Warren singing lead and Donnelly playing electric guitar – have toured the country several times, performed on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, opened for Gavin DeGraw and Kevin Costner and his band Modern West, and won an Independent Music Award for their song “Ordinary.” They’ve also recorded two critically acclaimed studio albums in Nashville – Good and Reckless and True (2005) and Sucker’s Dream (2009), a reference to Bridgeport’s most famous resident and character.

“The band was based in Bridgeport for a long time,” said Donnelly. “I grew up there and am inundated with Bridgeport lore. The city is the home of P.T. Barnum whose favorite saying reportedly was ‘there’s a sucker born every minute’.”

Perhaps Donnelly and Warren are hedging their bets to be on the safe side, but neither could be mistaken for anyone’s sucker. They’re hardworking, self-motivated, and they’ve retained their senses of humor, as well as their friendship, throughout the travails and triumphs of life on the road.

Alternate Routes“The longer you do this, the more you realize that it’s running your own business the way you would run any business,” said Donnelly, a music and philosophy major at Fairfield. “You have good times, bad times, up years and down years. When we got into it we were naíve. We are just going to make music and figure everything out afterwards, but the longer you do anything, the better you get at it, better at your instrument, better at writing, better at performing live, better at being in a band.”

The other three members are bassist Chip Johnson, with whom Warren now shares a Bridgeport house called “Brooklawn” (name-checked on the albums), guitarist Mike Sembos, with whom Donnelly grew up in Bridgeport, and current drummer Mike Stavitz. (Like Spinal Tap, The Alternate Routes have gone through a number of drummers). Most recently, The band has released Live … in Seattle, which offers a good overview of their accomplishments to date as well as an indication of their refined abilities to connect with a live audience.

Donnelly and Warren met in 2003. Warren, who was in the University Glee Club, was in need of a competent guitarist for a pops concert he was helping to arrange.

Page 1 of 3 | Next page