Denver Bar Association
December 2006
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Lawyers Who Rock: "Phoenix Rising"

by Mindy Marks

There are attorneys who never stop working. Then there are attorneys who do their best to stop working, but find their hobbies and careers intersecting at unusual times. Such was the case for Phil Cherner, criminal defense attorney, who spotted a difficult-to-reach lawyer while playing at a wedding and struck a deal between sets.

"I try not to treat the band as a job, but that itself has been a challenge," said Cherner, who has been playing the guitar since the seventh grade — roughly 45 years ago. "At times I have thought of the band as a job, but then it’s no fun. It’s important to step back and realize that having fun comes first."

Cherner’s group includes former members of the band Joe’s Garage — which was primarily comprised of public defenders — as well as some new faces. Joe’s Garage fell apart due to family and work commitments, and Phoenix Rising was born when Denver Partners asked the group to perform at its fundraiser three years ago.

Phoenix Rising

"There’s a nice social aspect to it," said Cherner. "If I wasn’t playing, I might not get to see the other band members and their families and friends. … It’s fun to watch them in settings I don’t anticipate. When I step into the band I’m not practicing law and they aren’t either so I see whole other sides of their personalities."

Phoenix Rising practices one night a week in Jerry Pagett’s basement with band members: Phil Cherner, guitar; Brandeis Sperandeo, public defender on vocals and guitar; Emmy Sperandeo on vocals; Scott Evans, public defender on bass; Skeet Johnson, public defender on lead vocals; Anne England, professor at the University of Colorado School of Law on trumpet; Dave Lipka, public defender on trumpet; Charlie Welton, attorney on trombone; Marcus Ivy, former public defender on drums; Jerry Pagett, trumpet; Jane Lindholm, vocals; and Trent Hines, professional keyboard player who plays on occasion.

Phoenix Rising has played several times at the public defender’s conference, charity fundraisers, the Mercury Café, birthday parties and weddings. The band’s style is varied, but the group likes to think of it as "dance music." They play everything from Motown and contemporary music to blues-based rock ’n’ roll — almost all of it incorporates horns. Evans has written a few of the band’s tunes, and Ivy and Johnson currently are working on writing songs.

"It’s the most fun when the audience is enjoying the music and dancing. The more they dance, the more we enjoy it. There’s a symbiotic relationship that’s almost unmatched," said Cherner. "The energy flows in two directions."

According to Cherner, the band isn’t full of "rock stars" or "divas."

"We’re much closer in appearance to the Grateful Dead than David Bowie or Beyoncé," said Cherner. "One guy used to wear leather pants until he ate his way out of them. We grew up with music as music, before there were videos. The presentation was terribly unimportant."

Phoenix Rising’s next show is Dec. 30, 8 p.m., at the Mercury Café and will benefit Ugandan Relief. For more information on booking, contact Skeet Johnson at (303) 620-4888, ext. 1169.

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