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Rock on: Hardin cover band unbeatable at tourney time

Posted at 6:35 PM, Feb 28, 2020

BILLINGS -- You won't find many Montana high schools that showcase a rock band with electric guitars and a lead singer.

Hardin's cover band has been jammin' at high school games for more than a decade, music director Dohn Ratliff told MTN Sports. And it's at it again at this week's Eastern A divisional tournament in Billings.

Ratliff says Hardin's rock success launched when Ratliff's ears started ringing while teaching drum line class early on the job.

"I was like, 'Man, what could I do?' And I was watching the Jack Black show School of Rock, and I went, 'We could do that!' So, I went from drum line hurting my ears to rock band hurting my ears," he said with a smile. "But I wanted to have fun."

And they do. Band members say they love to sing anything from Jo Dee Messina to Tommy Two Tone and even sing a couple verses off the cuff during this interview.

"I'm able to sing, I'm just not very good at it," lead guitar player Adrian Vizcarra said.

But it seems he's selling himself short. Vizcarra is actually the band major, meaning he runs the show when the boss is gone.

Hardin's cover band mostly rocks classic rock, but Ratliff is open to suggestions. Lead singer Cora Wood approached him about Linda Ronstadt's Silver Threads and Golden Needles.

"I actually came to him and said that's a song that I would be interested in singing, so he did all the work and typed it up and made sure it was good to go," Wood said beaming with satisfaction.

Vizcarra said he's pretty much self-taught after his dad left him a guitar.

"I just went home by myself and I messed around until I got good at it," he said.

Hardin's cover cast only includes five members. But the entire band count is almost 60, including some who'd love to make it a living some day.

"Hopefully I will be replacing Mr. Ratliff when he retires," sousaphone player Bethany Bourdon said, smiling in the direction of Ratliff.

For those not familiar, Bourdon describes the sousaphone as a bigger version of a tuba that wraps around the body. Somebody apparently thought the tuba wasn't big enough. Sousaphone isn't part of the rock band, though.

Like in most sports, the bigger the game, the bigger the crowd, the bigger the rush for this group. With Hardin's boys and girls already locked in to this year's State A tournaments in a couple weeks, it's safe to chalk up this weekend's divisional tournament as a sound check for the Big Dance. That's when the Bulldogs will again aim to blow the doors off of First Interstate Areana at MetraPark.

"Well, you get a nice big audience," Ratliff said chuckling. "There's not many high school kids who can say, 'Hey man, I played the Metra!'"