When they’re not teaching the next generation of great legal minds, four professors at San Diego’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law are rocking out with their band: “The Innocent Bystanders.”
You won’t see them selling out Viejas Arena, but you will see them packing the house in sports bars across San Diego and entertaining crowds at law school and alumni events. A far cry from the analytical work you expect from a law professor.
“At this point, I don't have illusions about being the next Van Halen or anything, so I can just go play and have fun,” Wenger said.
The professors share a love of music that developed early in life. While they may not have played consistently throughout their lives, each member has recently made up for lost time by practicing often and booking regular gigs.
“I picked up drum sticks after a long hiatus — 10 to 15 years actually,” Berenson said. “Along with the drums, I also picked up a great group of friends.”
Through their music, these professors are getting to know each other on a much deeper level.
“I think it’s the bonding and camaraderie that comes from regularly practicing, performing and just hanging out together,” Lane said. “In my experience, that’s something unique to being in a band and playing music together.”
If there is any deficit in musical experience, each professor makes up in professional legal experience. They say there are parallels in each role: band member and legal professor.
“In both professions you need to be able to think on your feet, improvise and spout the occasional nonsense,” Lane said.
Wenger also sees parallels.
“For every hour in court, you've got ten hours or twenty or a hundred doing all of the background research that get you prepared for that moment. And it's the same with the band,” he added.
The group started playing together in February 2013, but the members weren’t quite a band at that point. They gathered in a San Diego studio to practice “I Fought the Law.”
“It’s what law professors do every day,” Semeraro said of the song.
Keeping with the legal theme, they began searching for a name. Early iterations of the group included “Four Chords and the Truth” and “Hadley and the Baxendales,” a reference to the landmark legal case Hadley v Baxendale. The group settled on “The Innocent Bystanders” before playing their first gig at a private party on Memorial Day 2013. With this, they became a band.
They expanded their musical repertoire that night with the addition of “Jailhouse Rock” and “Folsom Prison Blues” to their set list. But the band is now moving beyond covering the music of other artists. “The Innocent Bystanders are just beginning the process of incorporating original songs. I think that’s an exciting prospect for all of us, and it should open doors to different gigs at new venues,” Lane said.