RACINE — John Kulas is living a rock and roll fantasy.
Kulas plays in the southeastern Wisconsin band called Well-Known Strangers, and the group Friday was chosen as one of the three finalists in Milwaukee Summerfest’s fifth annual Land the Big Gig Contest.
The band is scheduled to play June 30 on Summerfest’s Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard stage with a chance to win $20,000.
“We are more than excited,” said Kulas, who grew up in Racine and attended St. Catherine’s High School. “I’ve been dizzy all day long.”
Not bad for a band that is barely a year old. Two members, lead vocalist Betsy Ade and rhythm guitarist Joe Adamek — another St. Catherine’s graduate — sang together at a wedding for a mutual friend last year, Kulas said. They liked how they sounded together and decided to join up.
The other band members played for other groups before being recruited to become Well Known Strangers. But the band added a winning touch when cellist Sacia Jerome joined, giving the group a unique sound.
The band consists of Adamek, Ade, Jerome, Theodore Koth on lead guitar and banjo, Roger Gower on drums, and Kulas on bass guitar.
The band’s first gig was at the Route 20 Outhouse on Highway 20 in Yorkville last October.
The band has played all over country, including Las Vegas and Chicago, and will perform at the Kraut Music Fest at 6:30 p.m. today at Caledonia-Mount Pleasant Memorial Park in Caledonia. It also will perform on the Route 20 Outhouse float in the Fourth Fest parade next month.
The Land the Big Gig contest started in May with hundreds of bands and artists submitting songs. Judges winnowed the list to 155 artists, and fans voted on the song submissions for nearly a month.
Judges selected a top 10 and had those artists submit videos of a live performance. Well-Known Strangers used video from its very first show at Route 20 Outhouse, Kulas said.
“Everything about that video came out great,” he said. “We were amazed by the voting. We looked at the Facebook pages of other more established bands and they had way more likes. So that shows how dedicated our fan base is.”
About 300 people were at Route 20 Outhouse to see that show, which is still probably the biggest crowd they have played for, Kulas said.
But the band could see 10 times that number on June 30.
“We welcome that,” Kulas said. “That’s why you do this. That’s what we all dream about.”