The band is with her.
Kristen McGee, a Peckville native, has had the chance to perform up and down the Northeast shoreline as well as throughout the country for the past 25 years, first with former Northeast Pennsylvania-based band Tin Pan Alley and today with her band, Kristen and the Noise.
Over almost two decades, the five-piece party/cover band — which consists of McGee, Steve Miceli on guitar, Danny Serrano on drums, Eddie Jenkins on keyboard and Jeff Vega on bass — remains a staple at beachside clubs including the Starboard in Dewey Beach, Delaware; Gypsy Bar at the Borgata, Atlantic City, New Jersey; Seacrets, Ocean City, Maryland, and more. The band also has performed at countless weddings plus corporate and private events from Beverly Hills, California, to Key West, Florida.
The sometimes tough schedule has McGee — who now lives in Newark, Delaware — usually performing anywhere from four to six nights per week, especially in summer. McGee mixes high-octane, magnetic energy with powerhouse vocals. Whether in a packed room or an intimate, acoustic setting, she aims to put on a show for the audience that leaves them feeling better than when they came.
“People always ask where I get my energy, and I always say, ‘From you,’” McGee explained during a recent phone interview. “It’s a volley of energy between them and me, and that’s really why I do what I do.”
While many see McGee as a rock star, she’s also a businesswoman. McGee owns and operates Kristen and the Noise, a business McGee built up and runs to this day. It has provided a comfortable life for her and her daughter, Zoe Tutlo, and she’s proud of that.
“I’ve done this for 25 years, and I’ve made a living and I’ve raised a child as a single mother and I’ve done a lot of different things,” she said. “I take a lot of pride in the work that I do and being able to do it in a professional manner. It’s not just a hobby.”
It’s a dream realized for McGee, who can’t remember a time before she wanted to perform. She always knew singing to make others happy was a feeling she couldn’t live without.
Her mother, Josette Kwolek of Peckville, recalled a time when McGee was about 2 years old at a high school football banquet with her parents (including dad, William) and their friends. Her parents’ friends loved to hear her sing, Kwolek said, and so the toddler got up on the table to belt out,“You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone.
“She’s just always loved entertaining and loved singing,” Kwolek said. “It was just amazing to hear this small child sing and watch her light up.”
As she grew up, McGee kept working on her craft, dabbling in high school bands and auditioning in New York City. McGee remembered teachers asking her what she wanted to do after high school, and she always said singing. Even if they pressed her, she remained steadfast on her dream.
“There was nothing else for me. This is what I wanted to do,” she said. “There was no backup. It was always just singing.”
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Baby, I’m fist fightin’ with fire just to get close to you. Can we burn something, babe? And I’d run for miles just to get a taste. Must Be Love On The Brain ♥️ . . . . #loveonthebrain #rihanna #yougotme #music #singer #song #mood #vibes #feelings #listen #fire #???? #stageface
A little later, McGee started the band Tin Pan Alley with friends. They played locally at clubs such as Tink’s, the Staircase, Heil’s Place and Rascal’s to build up their following. The manager of Tink’s took an interest in the band and helped connect it with a booking agent, Rick Green, in Philadelphia.
Kwolek, who still makes it out to see her daughter perform throughout the year, remembers when the booking agent saw McGee for the first time.
“He told Kristen, ‘I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve seen a lot of female singers, and you are hands-down the best I’ve ever heard,’” Kwolek said. “He believed in her and her talent. … She just has something about her that draws people in.”
The band continued to play throughout Philadelphia and eventually made its way to shore towns along the Northeast. McGee also moved to the Philadelphia area at the time since she was performing there so often.
After about five-and-a-half years with Tin Pan Alley, McGee became pregnant with her daughter and decided to step away from performing, as she thought she had to be more responsible and stationary. She gave the band her blessing to continue without her and even helped find a replacement.
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As many of you know, events at which people congregate are being canceled to stop the spread of COVID-19 aka Corona virus. In the midst of this widespread pandemic, we would love nothing more than to bring you joy and lift your spirits through this worrisome time! However, many of our shows will be canceled for everyone’s safety. We will continue to keep you updated. In the meantime, take good care of yourselves and stay strong!!! Much love!!! -Kristen ♥️ . . . . . . #spreadjoy #spreadlove #spreadkindness #spreadpositivity #staystrong #takecareofyourself #takeyourvitamins #washyourhands #wewillgetthroughthis #muchlove ???? @joelito_777
After about a year away, though, McGee felt that itch to perform. She felt she couldn’t teach her daughter to be her authentic self and follow her own dreams one day without practicing what she preached. When McGee was ready to get back into the scene, she reached out to her former booking agent, Green, who is still her band’s agent to this day through Midnight Sun Co. He told her a group of musicians who knew of McGee and her talents was waiting for her. The agent had gigs booked before the band even had its first rehearsal.
“It really spoke a lot people’s belief in me or what they maybe thought of me, and it really meant a lot to me,” she said. “People seemed excited, and I was excited to get back into it.”
The energy and chemistry on stage and off was electric, and she knew it was a good fit. The band has continued to perform for almost 20 years, and while the lineup has changed, McGee said Kristen and the Noise shows are high-energy and fun.
Though the coronavirus pandemic has thrown the industry for a loop, the band has even tossed around the idea of performing at social-distancing parties, where they will set up with a three- or four-piece acoustic act. They’re also more available than usual to book for gigs due to the pandemic. Still, Kristen and the Noise also has kept busy, including live Facebook performances on Sundays to keep engaged with its fans.
“It’s a great way to connect with people, and we can see their comments or they’ll request songs,” McGee said. “We get to give back the joy that people bring us and just being together and playing together feels good.”
Even if juggling her career and her mom duties over the years was difficult at times, McGee always made it work. During some weekends she performed at the shore, her parents stayed with Zoe while she sang at night. Then, in the morning, she could get up and spend the whole day at the beach with her daughter.
“You can have both,” she said. “You can be a good career woman and concentrate on your work and your livelihood and be a good mother, be a great mother, even a supermom. You don’t have to choose.”
Today, Zoe follows in her mom’s footsteps. She sings and writes songs, and she attends college in Los Angeles to be able to record and produce her own music. She’s learned so much from her mom and has even sang with the band during McGee’s performances. While in the beginning Zoe may have been too young to grasp what her mom was doing, she understands and appreciates it now.
“Even if she was dead tired, she would always play with me and make sure I was taken care of,” Zoe said. “I have a pretty cool mom.”
McGee has built a career on her lifelong dream and her natural-born talent. She’s had the chance to perform for a living and create a life on her own terms. She has no plans of stopping and can’t wait to get back out there and share her gift with audiences.
“I do it because I love to do it,” McGee said. “I do it for those people who come up to me at the end of the night and say, ‘I had a really hard time at work’ or ‘My wife has been crying nonstop over the state of the world … and this is the first time she’s actually smiled in so long.’ That’s why I do this. It fills my heart to bring joy to other people.”
Meet Kristen McGee
Residence: A Peckville native, she lives in Newark, Delaware.
Family: The daughter of Josette and William Kwolek, she has two brothers, two sisters and a daughter, Zoe Tutlo.
Claim to fame: McGee has performed in bands for 25 years, including former Scranton-based band Tin Pan Alley, and today has played all over the country with her party/cover band, Kristen and the Noise, of which she also is owner/operator.
Online: For the band, visit kristenandthenoise.com, @kristenandthenoise on Instagram, @KristenNoise on Twitter, or Kristen and the Noise on Facebook. To book the band, visit the website or email email@example.com. For McGee, follow @kristenk10 on Instagram.
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT