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'Southern' has the drive

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Feb. 26, 2014 at 3:04 p.m.
Updated Feb. 25, 2014 at 8:26 p.m.

Stephanie Petrash-Ross is illuminated by stage lights as she smiles at a bandmate during the The Southern Drive Band's soundcheck before performing at the Addy Awards on Friday at the Hilton Garden Inn. Ross plays guitar and provides female vocals for the band.

Rick Evans stood by the Shooters patio door and considered venturing outside for a smoke break.

The karaoke singers that night were loud and constant, and Evans, a professional singer, was in need of a short pause from off-key and out-of-range vocals.

But then he paused as Stephanie Petrash-Ross took the stage to sing Trick Pony's "Pour Me."

"I'd seen her sing before with another band. I thought the band was OK, but she was really good," said Evans, lead singer of Victoria-based The Southern Drive Band.

At the time, Evans was singing with the well-known Texas dance hall band Rhythm of the Road, searching for a female singer to add to the band.

Listening to the energetic blond sing karaoke - well - with little more than a sound machine and embryonic microphone, Evans thought, "She might do."

Moments later, he thought he'd give her voice a closer inspection, asking her to sing a duet, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood's "Remind Me."

"I thought she sounded real good. It's hard to jump in and sing with someone like that, but she had a natural ability to sing harmonies," he said.

Their moment on the stage birthed a near-immediate audition. And months later, when Evans decided to leave Rhythm of the Road and start his own band - mentioning that he "just could not sing 'Cupid Shuffle' or 'The Wobble' anymore" with his former band - he looked to Petrash-Ross to take the vocal lead, of sorts, and consider joining his pursuit to "make it big."

"We met in March of last year, auditioned together in July and started gigging about two weeks later," Evans said. "Stephanie was good when she started, but she's gotten so much better, and we're singing so much tighter."

Southern Drive, which also includes Jay Carmona and Rene Figueroa, has gained much momentum in its short time together, booking sizeable gigs that seasoned bands wait years to book.

On Friday, the band played Victoria's Addy Awards, introducing mainstream, non-dance-hall-going Crossroads listeners to the pop-country perfection that is Southern Drive.

Petrash-Ross, who has in the time of the band's formation become married and pregnant, does not see motherhood as an opportunity to step away from the collective dream to land a legitimate recording contract one day and make it to the national music scene.

Neither does Evans, who pokes fun at Petrash-Ross and her "unrealistic expectations" at returning to the stage after giving birth.

"She thinks she's only going to miss one or two shows," said Evans, laughing. "I have three kids myself, and she's insane if she thinks she's only going to be out for a couple of shows."

Petrash-Ross, also laughing at the possibility of having to soon breast-feed a baby in between breaks at the dance hall, said if she has to bring the baby to the bar - or on tour when it reaches that point - she's willing to make that sacrifice.

"I may just have the kid up there with me on stage. I'll pump right there on my break. That's sexy, right?" she giggled. "Beyonce did it. Martina McBride did it. They popped them out and kept going. And they were rockin' out."

Laughing and mocking Petrash-Ross' comment, Evans said, "What she's saying is that she's just like Beyonce and Martina McBride."

For now, while riding out the rest of the pregnancy, Southern Drive continues to perform both original songs and contemporary hits to the tune of Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Tracy Chapman, George Strait, U2, Stevie Ray Vaughan and others around South Texas.

But its big plans are musical longevity.

"We want to eventually play more of our original music and less covers. That's what sets us apart from every other band in town," Evans said. "And we want to eventually be headlining, playing big shows, singing our own music. That's the dream."



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