Trashing venues and teaching kids: Meet the educators behind Louisville metal band Belushi Speed Ball
Headliners Music Hall, April 29. The packed crowd roars as teens and adults alike push to reach the front. Figures appear on stage dressed in ramshackle renditions of Batman characters.
Front and center stands a man wearing a comic book Bane mask and a sleeveless shirt.
“We heard there’s a Foxbat,” he says of another band playing that night. “And we're here to break the bat!”
The band breaks into “Ravioli Ravioli Give Me the Formuoli” and the audience explodes. Hair, elbows and feet fly every which way.
On stage, Mr. Freeze launches toilet paper from a roll attached to a leaf blower. A penguin shreds the bass.
This is Belushi Speed Ball. They’re loud, eccentric and specialize in destroying venues. What drives the chaos is a mission to build a community — they call it an “Island of Misfit Toys” for punks.
The Louisville-based crossover thrash band released their newest album “What Us, Worry?” in late May. It’s available anywhere you typically find music, as well as on the Nintendo 64 and Gameboy Advance.
The singer in the Bane mask is Vinny Crastellano. He custom builds the game cartridges they distribute the album on.
The band began as Crastellano’s studio project with friends in 2013. After releasing their first album in 2014, they started doing live shows.
“I asked Beau to be a part of it because my favorite bands always have been Alice Cooper and Kiss and Insane Clown Posse and Gwar, like these theatrical acts where you’re there seeing more than just the music,” Crastellano said.
Beau Kaelin — also known by his manager persona “Señor Diablo” — was the guy dressed as Mr. Freeze. His said he draws on his background in acting and directing movies in overseeing the band’s unique theatrics.
“At the end of the day, Gwar is keeping their costumes and their props and all that onstage, whereas with us, we want to give them to the audience,” Kaelin said.
Kaelin helps make each show entirely unique. In February, the band played a show at the Flamingo Lounge specifically for cats.
In May, the band’s set at Poorcastle Music Festival featured “Speed Ball” — a made-up relay game for fans involving filling buckets with popsicles. Each song in Belushi’s show introduced a new rule to the already chaotic game.
Kaelin says the band’s ability to command a crowd stems from the members’ careers in education. Both Kaelin and Crastellano work in high schools around the Louisville area.
The bass-playing Penguin is an educator too. Jazzy Romans taught English before becoming a counselor at DuPont Manual High School.
“The teachers love it, because they like seeing that the kids have a counselor who is a professional, but can also still enjoy a hobby on the weekends,” Romans said. “A lot of these kids, they’re going to go to school for music, and just because you don’t have a ‘career’ in music doesn’t mean you can’t do something with it for the rest of your life.”
The band members say they rarely mention their music in school to avoid appearing as though they're self-promoting.
Still, their side gig is no secret.
“While I’m playing they’ll be like ‘Ms. Romans!’ and wave at me, but at school they don’t ever talk to me about it. Even though I know a ton of them talk about it, because the other teachers tell me,” Romans said.
“Belushi is for the kids” is a common phrase within the band. Many of their songs feature references to cartoons like Spongebob, Naruto and Pokémon. Crastellano said that’s because they all find it funny.
Band members claim their name has nothing to do with the fatal overdose of actor John Belushi.
“Our music is very G-rated, we don’t swear,” Crastellano said. “I like to think that for the most part we’re positive role models in the scene.”
Their albums regularly feature local guest musicians.
“You see Belushi Speed Ball enough times in a row, you'll end up in the band,” Crastellano said.
“You'll either end up in the band or a song will be written about you, or both,” Kaelin added.
Jackson Lyons was a Belushi fan long before he found himself in Crastellano’s sophomore biology class.
“I started chipping away at him that way, I was like ‘hey man, I play the drums, I like your band,’” Lyons said.
He told Crastellano he wanted to go into music and began learning some of Belushi’s songs. Lyons said when Crastellano had his bass in class one day, he asked Lyons to bring his drums during a free period.
Crastellano was impressed. He told Lyons that when he graduated, he could play with Belushi for a night.
“Ever since I’ve been in a band I’ve heard about his band, and now he’s telling me if I keep going and keep trying that I can play with his band one day? Holy crap,” Lyons said.
His goal came to fruition at a show in January 2020.
“People kept coming in, it was just nonstop to the point where the door couldn’t open, people were on the front porch of the house — standing, climbing on things,” Lyons said.
Lyons played a half-set for a crowd spilling into the streets. He called it “mayhem.”
Afterward, Lyons sought out a permanent gig and landed with Louisville band Scrooge Mandella. Lyons said Crastellano, who knew some of their members, thought he’d be a perfect fit.
“He gave these guys the best recommendation possible, and then turned around to them and recommended me to them in a really good way,” Lyons said. “Vinny played an integral role in me finding my fit with Scrooge, and it could not have gone better.”
Lyons returned to Louisville on June 20 after a three-week tour of the southeast. He said it wouldn’t have happened without Belushi.
“I love Belushi, more people every day are beginning to love Belushi, and I’m grateful for that,” Lyons said. “The difference that they’ve been able to make in my life, and to see that carry forward and make a difference in more people’s lives, it’s beautiful.”