Wesley Bright had never really sung for anyone. He'd sung in the shower, of course, and around his family and in church, but in front of people? Nope. And then he got discovered in the most likely of places: while working at a Verizon store in Akron.
"I happened to know somebody who was working at Starbucks," says Bright. That somebody was drummer Nick Fritsch, who along with bassist Bob Basone was looking to form a band. They needed a singer. Wesley said he could sing. Well, he thought he could sing. "I was assuming I sounded decent."
One trip to their house and his feeling was confirmed, and so was born Wesley Bright & the Hi-Lites, a stomping, swinging soul band that's taken Northeast Ohio by storm since 2011.
"I grew up in the church," says Bright, who still works full time for Verizon despite the band's success. "My family is all from the south in Georgia, so it was a real Southern Baptist gospel type of thing. And then when you're by yourself, that's when you sing how you know you're supposed to sing. They liked it and we decided we wanted to do it like they did in the 1960s, you know, just like they did it back then. You hear a lot of terms -- neo soul, new soul -- but we wanted to play soul just how it's supposed to be played."
And so came the suits and the horns and the synchronized dance steps and the kind of infectious soul that has crowds at their shows dancing from start to finish.
"Cleveland, of course, is a huge rock city. You have that thick culture here," says Bright, who lives in Akron with his wife and children. "But you also have soul acts, like Bobby Womack, RIP, and you have the Ohio Players and you have Gerald Levert. That's been woven into the fabric of our culture too, as a soul city. I'm ever so grateful to the folks that came before us so that we can do what we do."
It's impossible to leave a Wesley Bright & the Hi-Lites show feeling anything but joyous. The music is aimed straight for the heart and legs and Bright himself is a smiling, beaming, non-stop ride of energy and smiles.
"You know, sometimes I'm so sleepy on the way to a show. I'm just like everyone, I'm busy," says Bright. "And then I get up there and it just turns on. I love people. People are what fuel me. At the end of the day, I just want to show love and kindness and make people feel better than they did when they walked in the door."
As if the 33-year-old doesn't have enough going on already with the music, family and job, he also makes honey. Yes, honey.
"Akron Honey Co.," he says. "I bought this vacant lot a year ago and didn't know what I was going to do with it. I researched and eventually I was driving home from Kent with two colonies of bees in my trunk asking myself what I was doing. Now, I microbatch honey."
But the music, which wasn't even a thought at first and then a hobby, is much more than that now.
"I didn't know it was going to be like this," says Bright. "It was just going to be fun. That's what I told the guys. I told them it was on the side and my work and my family come first. Now, it's like we want to go all the way."
A new Hi-Lites record, if you were wondering, is on the way. In the meantime, see a show. You won't be disappointed.
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