Three Wise Men: Gentri harmonizes Christmas, melodies + pocket squares

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   Casey Elliott has always had a thing for Christmas. The singer has two brothers who are nearly a decade younger than he is, so Casey did what any teen with theatrical tendencies would do: He got himself a Santa suit and played the part on Christmas Eve. He would climb on the roof and jingle jangle. He would have his parents wake up his brothers to watch from the stairway while they saw the back of “Santa” unloading presents from his satchel.

   And then there was the time Casey wore his Santa suit to his hosting job at Winger’s restaurant, and after work the teenage “Santa” got in a car accident with a grandma in the busiest section of Bountiful. (Don’t worry. Grandma did not get run over by a singer.)

   The fun-loving and Christmas-obsessed Casey is flanked in the classy “boy band” by two tenors both named “Brad” who also have Christmas memories — although their stories center more on Sub for Santa (Brad Lever) and picking out real Christmas trees (Brad Robins).

   Together, they sing Christmas cheer for all to hear under the name Gentri — short for gentleman’s trio, and long for high fashion and holidays. 

   These three wise men have spent seven years bringing their musical theater prowess to the concert stage, with Christmas being the top-of-the-tree moments for both those behind the mic and the ones giving the standing ovations.

   Gentri is Christmas personified.

Once Upon A Time

   Casey and the two Brads first worked together in 2014 in what Casey calls “practically another book of scripture, especially in Utah” — Les Misérables. Soon after, Casey invited Brad Lever over to his home for a night of games.

   “My wife looked at us and told us we should start a music group — a boy band,” Casey recalls. “The conversation continued and our friend who was visiting from L.A. started talking about how we should be a band that stood for something — a group that had meaning behind our voices.”

   The three tenors soon started mulling over the idea, and their working title became “man band.” Other options on the table included “The Leading Men” and “The Broadway Boys.”

   Then, another fortuitous moment from another wife in the group sealed the deal. Brad Robins was brushing his teeth and expressing frustration that the group hadn’t settled on a name when his wife suggested, “Why don’t you just call it Gentri, short for Gentlemen Trio?”

   “I spit out my toothpaste,” Brad Robins says. “It just fit.”

Lookie Here

   As the trio came together and the dreams were still in beta testing, Casey, Brad and Brad did their first photo shoot, featuring white pants, sporty jackets and sunglasses. They used the photos to alert friends and family that something amazing was about to happen.

   The truth is, the trio didn’t know exactly what that was. Fans guessed a clothing brand or a modeling gig.

   “We’ll let you know what’s happening when we figure it out,” Brad Robins laughs.

   Intrigue set in and a following started forming.

  In the beginning, they planned to sing musical theater pieces. Others in the industry convinced them to think broader than Broadway. They grew toward the phrase “cinematic pop, with contemporary stylings.” The phrase stuck, and the fan base grew. Gentri’s first release was a cover of “Every Breath You Take/With or Without You.”

Tight Harmonies

  Seven years, hundreds of concerts, millions of views and a pandemic later — Gentri is bonded like a tight harmony. They easily recall memories like the time they were on their way back to the Atlanta airport and found out the airport was closing due to a fire. With a show in St. George the next night, they had no choice but to start driving to a nearby airport — which was Nashville, five hours away. Brad Lever took the wheel and the others took sleeping pills. They flew to Vegas, drove to St. George, and showed up just in time to throw on suits and jump into music rehearsal with the instrumentalists.

   And then there was the day they got a flat tire and started walking to the auto parts store in Idaho, only to be picked up by some fans who happened to own the store and helped them get on their way.

   And then there was the time — multiple times — they booked a minivan but hoped for the upgrade. And the millions of nights they touched hearts by filling the air with music, love, humor and connection.

   “Most boy bands don’t make it past 4 1/2 years,” Brad Lever says. “And we’ve at seven. It’s been amazing.”

   When the group began and their sound was still finding its place, Brad Robins remembers thinking how cool it would be to sing with a full orchestra. That day came, and it was as glorious as he imagined.

   “And I had this epiphany,” Brad Robins says. “Christmas needs to be fully orchestrated. It needs to be an experience! Gentri is uniquely positioned to provide the community with this orchestrated Christmas production year after year.”

Greatest Story Ever Told

   As Gentri was forming into the greatest “man band” our state has produced, they were aware that musicians who find success often have attributes that set them apart.

   “We can sing, and we can wear suits, but that wasn’t enough for us,” Brad Robins says. “We tapped into our storytelling roots. We know how to tell a story, and we brought that together with the visual elements and the sweeping orchestrations by Stephen (Nelson) and we positioned ourselves in that way pretty early on.”

   The storytelling captivates audiences in their seats, but it also translates to the group’s YouTube channel where popular videos include a spontaneous video of Gentri singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the Kansas City Airport to cold and frustrated travelers. The group’s most viewed video is “Little Drummer Boy,” set in a children’s hospital, with joy and humor traveling through the hospital halls as Gentri plays the roles of medical staff and security guard (with local drummer Clint Pulver making a guest appearance).

   “Christmas and Gentri fit so well together because Christmas is the greatest story ever told,” Brad Robins says. “We all love to tell stories about Christmas memories and traditions, and nostalgia works well for how we present Christmas and the story of Christ.”

The Piano Man

   When Stephen Nelson was first approached about working with Gentri, he didn’t want to jump in with two hands.

   “I was actually trying to figure out how to get out of this — a boy band? Maybe I could do one song for them and then move on,” he says.

   Stephen was on a trajectory to become a successful film scorer and soundtrack composer. But then he heard the tight harmonies of the two Brads + Casey, and he saw the potential.

   “There is a euphoria of being on stage and witnessing music that I’ve arranged create kinetic energy and change the molecules in the air,” Stephen says. “There is magic when that happens, and it’s a dream come true for me. Growing up, I hoped someday my music might matter, but to have that come to fruition with this group is unexpected and incredible.”

   Stephen is also surprised each Christmas when spine-tingling moments bounce from wall to wall and floor to starry ceiling.

   “With the Christmas show, there’s a different energy,” he says. “We experience the show with the audience. Even from the stage, we feel like we’re part of the audience — experiencing the music all together as if it’s the first time. Part of the magic is that the audience has so much history with the songs we sing, and then we add our twist. It’s fun to see their faces light up with tears in their eyes. It never gets old.”

   Spoiler alert! The 2021 Gentri Christmas show will be more theatrical and story-driven than in year’s past. Second spoiler alert! It will involve harmonicas. Hmmm …

Post-Covid Christmas

   The 2021 Christmas tour for Gentri is lighter than in years past, and that’s by design and is the perfect gift.

   “One year we had 20 Christmas shows and a hectic schedule,” Brad Robins says. “As chaotic as it was, that was the year I felt the Christmas spirit more than ever before. No other year had I taken 20 days and consciously focused on getting into the spirit of Christmas.”

   Gentri’s Salt Lake City shows are traditionally held the weekend following Thanksgiving at the Eccles Theater. Other shows are dotted throughout the holidays and year-round.

Act II

   During the socially distanced Gentri Christmas concert in 2020, the trio announced to the audience that they would be reprising their roles in Les Misérables that they first played in 2014. They had always envisioned doing the show again, but it seemed like their touring and recording schedule wouldn’t allow for a long-run theatrical show.

   “It turns out our schedule opened up. Thanks, Covid,” Casey smiles.

   This run of Les Mis at Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy was especially unique because when rehearsals started, only 25 percent of the house could be filled. By the last week of rehearsal, it was announced that Hale Centre would allow full capacity. And in the middle of the run, the mask mandate was released. 

   “There was cheering that night,” Brad Lever says. “The community came alive.”

   The show also brought Casey, Brad and Brad alive again.

   “Les Mis connected us the first time, and then it brought us back together after a hard year. It was a whole new experience this time to look into Casey’s eyes as he played Jean Valjean. Audience members said our chemistry on stage showed a brotherhood and a friendship that was unusual,” Brad Robins says.

   Brad Lever describes it perfectly when he says Les Mis “is a powerful story for this time in everyone’s lives. It’s a story of change and love. We all needed to be reminded of that this year.”

Fashion Forward

   In addition to tight harmonies, Gentri is known for its style and dashing pocket squares, which were introduced from the very first photo shoot.

   “An internal phrase we use is ‘the power of the pocket square.’ You can put a pocket square in any jacket and it elevates it,” Casey says.

   The tiny piece of fabric draws comments from the “man fans” as well as from gushing women.

   “A man walked up to me and said, ‘My wife convinced me to start wearing pocket squares because of you guys, and I want to say thank you because everybody comments when I wear it,” Brad Lever says.

   Casey had a woman come up to him at church and say, “I’m still trying to get my husband to dress like you guys.”

   When Brad Robins hears this, he laughs and asks, “Was she referring to the lederhosen in Germany, because that could be arranged!”

Tale of Two Brads

   Having two-thirds of the trio with the same first name has proven complicated at times. At one memorable fund-raiser, the singers were scheduled to sing solos. Brad Robins took to the stage for his turn to perform, and the sound engineer turned on the wrong Brad’s microphone. Brad Lever was in the back doing glorious warm-ups, and he — ahem — cleared his throat.

   The theater background of Gentri prepared them to roll with things when the “plot” changes and things don’t go according to plan.

   Just to make things confusing, there are a total of five Brads who are part of this year’s Christmas show, and the two guitarists are both named Nick. (Jolly Ol’ Saint Nicks and Brads in the house.)

Brothers Gotta Hug

   For seven years, the trio and their wicked talented accompanist Stephen have shared late-night rehearsals, early morning texts, and complex travel itineraries. But they aren’t four peas in a musical pod. They each have their roles and their quirks.

   Who texts the most? Brad Robins.

   Who sends the funniest texts? Casey or Stephen. “The GIF game is strong with these guys,” Stephen says.

   Most likely to arrive late? Brad Lever.

   Highest fashion sense? Brad Lever. “Wow, thank you for this honor,” Brad Lever jokes as the brothers banter and grant “most likely to” awards at our Orem interview.

   Cries the easiest? Casey. “He’s a sympathetic crier,” Stephen explains. “If someone is crying, Casey joins in.” 

   Laughs the quickest? Brad Lever. “And I tend to laugh at all the wrong times. It’s like I have a deacon laugh,” he says. “But yes, I get the giggles. When we filmed the ‘Genquad’ video with Johnson Files, it was tough to get through with a straight face.”

   Most likely to order off the kids menu? That would be Brad Robins. He’s all about the chicken nuggets and pizza.

   Most likely to choose Mexican food? Everyone. They find themselves scouring Yelp on their travels and then going to the nearest taco shop. Favorite Mexican in Utah? Maria Bonita in Orem and Cafe Rio.

Driven

   Another “senior superlative” granted in our Utah Valley Magazine interview was “most traffic tickets.” And the award goes to … Casey.

   “And they are all from Idaho — literally every time we go to Idaho, I get pulled over,” he says.

   “That’s why we can’t afford to tour there this year,” Brad Robins quips.

   After a police officer wrote Casey a ticket, he looked around the car and said, “Aren’t you the group that did a video with a little girl?”

   “Yes, officer. That’s us.”

   “Why didn’t we lead with that?” Casey laughs as he re-tells the story. “Maybe we could’ve gotten out of that ticket!”

Calling All Tenors

   The members of Gentri have families and other careers (Brad Robins became a father during this year’s run of Les Mis). Even with their outside lives, Gentri is dedicated to the music and to the mission.

   “We view this as a life calling in a way,” Brad Robins says. “Gratefully our spouses have been all in from the first day, and it would be impossible without their support. There are inconvenient meetings and rehearsals, but we are drawn to do this.”

   Fortunately, audience members agree and line up to buy tickets and merch — especially at Christmastime.

   Since 2015, Christmas and Gentri have become synonymous and symbiotic for a couple of reasons.

   “First, music lends itself to the grandeur of Christmastime,” Brad Lever says. “But also, it is a time for us individually to praise Jesus Christ. It allows us to worship. I can’t imagine Gentri without Christmas or vice versa.”

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