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The class-y side of Brandon Kirkley

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It isn't anything new and trendy for bands to sprout up on college campuses, but what does seem to be a fresh idea is the fact many are looking to actually take this pastime further than a keg party or jam session in the dorms.

College bands are beginning to think more lucratively, instead of just trying to win over some girl's fleeting affection (though that girl could be the topic of their first hit single). With the help of Internet-streamed college radio, MTVU's Best Campus Band award and social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and PureVolume, college bands are beginning to get the recognition they long for.

UNC Charlotte is no stranger to fame-starved bands -- take The Sammies, for example, who have been featured on national TV shows and in numerous magazines, all from a humble start on the good old UNCC campus.

More and more students are searching for talented peers and dipping their toes into the music pool. A bevy of musicians have been popping up, whether it be acoustic, hardcore, punk or pop-rock, and many of them are looking to make it a career. You may not be able to get a bachelor's degree in rock star, but if you could, these guys would graduate with top honors.

One of the most notable artists in the past couple of years would be campus favorites Brandon Kirkley & The Firecrackers. The band brings a fun flavor to college rock, leaving the Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews clichés in the dust.

Not only do their late '90s-influenced tunes make them stand out, but who wouldn't notice a couple of dudes in booty shorts, too-tight tank tops, and sparkly headbands skating around campus with boom boxes in support of their band? That's how lead singer and co-founder of the band, Brandon Kirkley, found his way to local celebrity, and how he plans to expand his band's success, much of which he attributes to UNCC.

The college life became a bit of a catalyst for this young musician: Coming from a small Southern town where anything but a pickup truck and dirt-stained jeans is abnormal, Kirkley was able to fully unleash his talents with a more accepting, and diverse, crowd upon attending college. But he still faced some difficulties.

"It was hard finding people to get involved with a pop-rock band. People would go home and think they'd have to listen to Goo Goo Dolls now or something," he says. But Kirkley managed to make it work with friends he met in classes and through other college friends. UNCC was brimming with untapped talent, and he was determined to find all the potential he could to push the band further.

Unfortunately, a large downside of putting together a band while in school is that many people see college as a short chunk of time -- they try to get their four years and move on. But others, like Kirkley, think of it as much more than school. "There is a definite turnaround with college bands. People move on with their lives ... this is what I want to do with mine," he shares. "If I don't make it in a band by the time I'm 30 ... I can see myself and [band mate] Chris Fulton being a writing/production team. I want to write those pop songs for girls to sing. I can't do that right now, so I have to take that song and make it a Brandon Kirkley & The Firecrackers song. Chris and I are like song-writing soulmates."

With Kirkley, his love for the university and the university's love for him kept him around. Now working on his graduate degree, he also heads up UNCC's much-needed, long-overdue radio station, Radio Free Charlotte. The non-funded station means he's not compensated for the time he puts into it, but for the chance to give deserving musicians the exposure they need to be noticed, he couldn't care less.

Brandon Kirkley & The Firecrackers have become the go-to band for campus events, and Kirkley was even named Homecoming King last year. With his Niner-green guitar strap, Charlotte tattoo and UNCC decal on his guitar, Kirkley is the epitome of school spirit.

But his success isn't just in University City. Brandon Kirkley & The Firecrackers have been headlining Amos' and Tremont this past year, and have even become the band to call to fill opening-act slots for national touring bands. The glam persona that Kirkley infuses into the band -- what is, in his words, "Bon Jovi meets Gin Blossoms" -- draws a varied response from the audience, yet the intrigue continues to keep people listening.

"I have a very flamboyant appearance ... that's how people know me," he says. Even people whom he doesn't know. While on a recent beach trip, a young girl noticed his Michael Jackson tattoo and approached him. "She said all of her friends at ECU were huge fans of the band, and a bunch of her friends in Wilmington, too, and we've never even played there!" he says. "But we will be!"

While others are counting encounters with Kirkley as a brush with fame, he has had quite a few of his own. With the incredibly small budget pulled together by a bunch of college kids, the guys recorded a six-song EP that Kirkley has had the pleasure of giving to notables such as Hanson, Butch Walker and a slew of others.

The professionalism of the band in its approach, marketing and media design is definitely a key in reaching future roles, and much of the design is courtesy of yet another UNCC student, Daniel Kitts. "None of this would have been possible without UNC Charlotte," says Kirkley. "The only constants in my life in the last seven years have been music and UNCC."

Brandon Kirkley and the Firecrackers will perform at Tremont Music Hall on Aug. 27 with Hotspur, Through Porchlight, Elevation and Transmission Fields. Tickets are $8.

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