Tommy Leland Cantwell and his brother Brandon Cantwell are now successful musicians in Nashville, but they have a specific viewpoint regarding their hometown of Geneva.
“There must be something in the water in Geneva that makes that town produce some amazing musicians,” Brandon said. “There were so many kids passionate about music, doing it at full force and really killing it out there.”
That belief holds sturdy for the Cantwell brothers and their alternative country band the Flying Buffaloes as they travel from their Tennessee base around the South and Midwest to play weekend gigs and improve their skills.
Tommy, 29, graduated from Geneva High School in 2010, and the 26-year-old Brandon did so in 2013. As such, it is easy for them to chart how Geneva and the Tri-Cities area shaped their love of music to the point they could make a full-time job of it in one of America’s musical hot spots.
Both made their way through the Geneva schools’ music programs, citing high school instructor Pat Frederick and others as key mentors. But the musical roots got a boost because their father Tom Cantwell had a local rock band called Gallery.
“That band would rehearse at our house and, when I was in high school, I was their roadie,” said Tommy, who plays lead guitar for the Flying Buffaloes. “By the time I graduated, I was playing in clubs with them and it was just a classic rock cover band.”
Tommy played most of the area’s music events, including Swedish Days, Festival of the Vine, and the Concerts for a Cure for Parkinson’s research.
In the meantime, Brandon was cultivating skills through a love of the high school jazz band. And, along with Tommy, learning as much as he could from instructor Paul Sargent at the Imperial School of Music in St. Charles. They both performed in the Granquist Music Competition held in Geneva during Swedish Days.
Brandon, who plays bass guitar, was one of the first recipients of the Louie Armstrong Award at the high school as a top jazz musician, and he went on to perform with the highly regarded youth jazz band at Elgin Community College.
Tommy moved to Nashville in 2014 after graduating from Berklee College of Music, and Brandon was not far behind in moving there in 2018 after graduating from the University of Illinois.
“We met all of the band members in Nashville, and we all came here with the same dream of being musicians,” Tommy said of band mates Johan Stone, Barry Stone and Danny Pratt.
“We were playing enough gigs to be able to quit our side jobs, and we started up a company and business to support the band,” he added.
The Flying Buffaloes name came about when a member of the band’s organization lived out of the country and would fly into Nashville for various shows. He had a fondness for Buffalo wings when he was in the United States.
Ultimately, Flying Buffaloes came about and started to operate like a rock band with a country look and sound.
“A week for the Flying Buffaloes is busy,” Brandon said. “We usually get together every day and work on a handful of things, rehearsing our live set or writing and getting together to do the day-to-day business.”
The Flying Buffaloes were in Chicago last weekend to showcase their latest song “A New Day is Gonna Dawn,” while bringing the Cantwell brothers close to Geneva. It’s a trip they like to make.
“We keep busy on the road in the Southeast, but we like to get to the Midwest,” Brandon said. “All of the band members are from the Midwest, and we all migrated to Nashville at some point.”
Nashville tends to do that sort of thing, pulling in musicians with a dream on a regular basis.
To attract the Cantwell brothers is a nice feather in the cap for Geneva’s music programs and another slice of potential musical greatness for a city in Tennessee that thrives on it.