From cellist to country-rock

Jonathan Kampfe ’05 tours the country with The Phillip Fox Band

Jonathan Kampfe ’05 used to picture himself as a professional cellist playing in ensembles — a career classical musician.

He trained for years to fulfill this dream, attending BGSU on a music scholarship and earning a bachelor's degree in cello performance from the College of Musical Arts in 2005.

Then, an offer from an old friend changed everything, and Kampfe found himself playing music not in  symphony halls, but in stadiums, rock clubs and country western saloons.

Today, the one-time classical cellist is the bassist for the Columbus-based country-rock quartet, the Phillip Fox Band. Kampfe will return to Bowling Green on Saturday, when his band plays a 9 p.m. show on Saturday, Dec. 6 at Grumpy Dave's Pub, 104 S. Main St.

The band is currently touring to promote its first full-length album, Heartland.

The Phillip Fox Band is a full-time gig for all of its members, Kampfe said. They don't work side jobs and make the band their sole career focus, playing about 200 shows in 2014.

“At some point, you have to take that leap of faith,” Kampfe said. “I think one thing that helped me from the get-go was knowing there was no plan B. We all knew we wouldn't be making money for awhile, but that just pushed us harder to make it work.”

Although the Phillip Fox Band is more popular than ever now, Kampfe struggled after graduating from BGSU to find his purpose.

“For a change of scenery, I moved to Virginia and started working for a company that did window treatments,” he said. “I did some music gigs on the side, but it didn't take long before I knew this was not what I should be doing.”

Kampfe's life and career took a new direction when he reconnected with a friend from the Toledo area, fellow musician Phillip Fox.

Fox told Kampfe he was looking for a bass player for a new band.

Unsure whether this was the right move for his music career, Kampfe reached out to his former BGSU professor and mentor, Dr. Alan Smith, for advice.

“I wanted to get his reaction, because he was my cello teacher, and I wasn't sure he would take it well,” Kampfe said. “To my surprise, he told me, 'Go for it.'”

Kampfe accepted Fox's offer and moved to Columbus. By March 2011, Fox and Kampfe had been joined by guitarist David Morckel and drummer Austin Nill.

While the band produced the album Heartland without the support of a record label, its fans helped offset recording studio costs by raising $18,000 via the popular crowd-funding website Kickstarter.com. In return, the band took fans' input on what songs they should include on the album.

Although they have built their biggest fan base in Ohio, the Phillip Fox Band performed last month in Houston at the APCA South Central Regional Showcase. The showcase allows entertainers to connect with university event planners to book campus appearances.

While he prefers to tour for a week or two, rather than for months at a time (he and his wife welcomed a baby boy six months ago), Kampfe hopes doors will continue to open for the band.

“We do hope for that national exposure, but the main goal is to continue to do what we love to do, and to keep finding creative ways to do it,” he said. “I think we have a bright future ahead of us.”