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Band members on stage.

Pharmacy Researchers Find the Right Groove in the Lab and on the Stage

‘Doldrums of pandemic’ spark scientists’ desire to launch the band, which is gaining a strong following in Colorado

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Written by Lori Westermann on December 12, 2023

Most biomedical researchers are more comfortable working toward scientific breakthroughs in their lab than working a crowd on a performance stage. But, James Roede, PhD, and his research colleagues are not your average lab rats. In fact, Dr. Roede, along with senior professional researchers John Marentette, PhD, and Cole Michel are part of Uncle Beef’s Band, an Americana rock group that is gaining a growing following in the Denver area.

According to Roede, it all started during the long, isolating hours of the pandemic. While some people took up hobbies like tending indoor plants or baking bread, Roede decided to learn how to play the bass guitar.

“The band started sometime in 2021 as a way to get away from the doldrums of the pandemic life,” Roede recalled. “I’ve always been interested in music and playing an instrument but never had the courage to get up and do it. I finally made the big jump to get an instrument, learn a little bit about where the notes were . . . John was able to teach me some songs and we just progressed from there.”

"John" is John Marentette, the brainchild and lead singer of the band. And, according to him, Dr. Roede was a quick study with the new instrument.

“I showed him just the framework of how to play the bass guitar and within days we were playing multiple songs together,” Marentette said.

Catch a Show

Uncle Beef’s Band will unleash its Holiday Extravaganza performance at Herman’s Hideaway in Denver tonight (Dec.13). And, like any legit band, you can follow Uncle Beef’s Band on Instagram or YouTube, download a press kit from the band’s website, or catch the act at a venue near you. Rumor has it the band has some beefy new UBB swag just in time to round out your holiday gift-giving.

Marentette is also the namesake of the band, and the member who explains the often-asked question, “What’s with the name 'Uncle Beef'??”

“It comes from a childhood name, Beefy,” Marentette said. “My aunts, my cousins, their kids, all my nieces all call me Uncle Beef now. And, it’s also a play on being a Grateful Dead fan. One of their oldest songs is called Uncle John’s Band. My name is John . . . so we just started playing with that name – and then James (Roede) started making stickers and all kinds of things and it just stuck.”

The third band member from the School of Pharmacy is Cole Michel. By day, Michel works in the Mass Spectrometry Lab studying proteins and small molecules in food and other biological samples. By night, he’s the band’s keyboardist and serves up stirring riffs with a side of head-banging flair.

31(L-R) Researchers Cole Michel, Dr. James Roede, and John Marentette work in their respective biomedical labs.

When not on the stage or practicing for the next gig, Roede and Marentette work side-by-side in Roede’s toxicology lab studying how environmental chemicals affect oxidative stress. They study how different environmental exposures, things like pollution or processed foods, can contribute to a host of disease states from diabetes to cancer.

Although a rock band may seem like an unlikely side hustle for a group of scientists, Roede sees his music as a natural extension of his love for learning and as a way to light up some neurons in a different part of his brain.

“You know, you hear that if you learn to play an instrument you can develop your brain in a different kind of way – become smarter in a different kind of way,” Roede said. “So, I was trying to use that to hopefully improve my research here – but actually it’s done even more than I would have ever hoped for.”

For Marentette, the band provides a therapeutic break from the day-to-day demands of toxicology research.

“For me, when it comes to playing music, it’s always been a stress-reliver. It just makes everything melt away and you don’t have to think about anything else that’s going on in the world other than the next chord, the next note, the next lyric,” Marentette said. “And that’s what I’ve always loved about playing music. And getting these other folks here in the mix - it just makes it that much better.”

In the short time since Uncle Beef’s Band emerged from the pharmacy lab into the spotlight, they’ve garnered community support and professional acclaim. The band came in second place at last spring’s Battle of the Bands held in Stanley Marketplace, and they are becoming a fan favorite at the venerable music dive Herman’s Hideaway.

32James Roede, John Marentette and Cole Michel, along with Joel Meyerson and Darcy Shaw make up the core members of Uncle Beef's Band.

The boys in the band aren’t letting their moment in the spotlight go to their heads, however. According to band members, their goal is more about the camaraderie they experience on stage, and the opportunity to use their music to bring others together.

“I feel like this band is an opportunity for our school – and not just for the School of Pharmacy – but for the university community,” Roede said. “I think this is a unique opportunity for community building, to rally around and kind of bring people back together.”