Fort Frances is big in Lithuania 

Alio, Fort Frances

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  • Fort Frances
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[Editor's note] When you get an email from a Hoosier musician that says, “So, my band accidentally got really big in Lithuania,” you need to hear the story. David McMillin of Chicago-based Fort Frances told me that story. Fort Frances plays Friday at the Hi-Fi, before heading off on a short tour.

I learned many valuable lessons during my childhood in Southern Indiana, but there are two key pieces that have shaped the past year of my adult life: a love of basketball and a sincere respect for 1990s rap.

Before I continue, I should inform you that I am a) not good at basketball and b) not a rapper. I am the lead singer of an alternative rock band called Fort Frances, and I am mildly talented at jogging. But when I was growing up on Washington Street in Columbus, I aimed to develop my street cred. I wore Grant Hill Filas on the playground.


When I wasn’t on the court, I aimed to develop my street cred and bought the Friday soundtrack on cassette. I memorized all the words. In fact, I’m listening to 2 Live Crew’s “Hoochie Mama” as I write this, and I can still hold my own with these lyrics.

The future did not shape up as expected, though. The coach cut me from the sixth grade basketball team. My parents made me play trumpet in the middle school band. Nonetheless, I have carried hoops and hip-hop with me throughout my life, and last summer, they merged to take my band and me on an unlikely journey to Eastern Europe.

You may not know us in Indianapolis, just 45 minutes from my hometown. But in Lithuania, we’ve become a household name.


This success didn’t happen overnight. Its roots lie in an August afternoon in 2012 when my bandmates and I all put on basketball jerseys we purchased at a Chicago thrift store to record a video for our cover of the 1991 hip-hop gem “Summertime.” Yes, that “Summertime” — the one made famous by the Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff. We released the video that summer, and it hovered near the top of the bottomless pit of the Internet. Daniel Tosh featured us on his show, and our fans enjoyed seeing us miss lots of layups and hanging out shirtless on a beach. By the winter, it seemed to sink back into the abyss of cyberland.

But something changed the next summer. We started seeing an uptick in interest on our Facebook page and our email list, many of the names featuring accent marks and spellings reserved for use outside the US. The “Summertime” view count was also climbing. And it started climbing faster. The views? Nearly all of them were from Lithuania. After being featured on a few blogs and a major radio station, the song had become a seasonal anthem.

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Fast forward to summer 2015: The organizers of Loftas Fest reached out to bring us to Vilnius, Lithuania for a prime slot on the opening night of the festival. Even better, the US Embassy in Lithuania helped finance the journey. We were officially a product in a cultural exchange. I’ll let a few of my favorite photos from the trip tell the rest of the story.

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You thought people in Indiana love hoops? This massive basketball outside a museum in Kaunas shows that our respect for the game may pale in comparison to the home turf of Arvydas Sabonis and Zyrdrunas Ilgauskas.

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While we’re struggled to trace the full course of how we earned a place in Eastern Europe’s popular music scene, ZIP FM played a major part. We stopped by to play “Summertime” and take calls from listeners and fine-tune our Lithuanian speaking skills, which included the equivalent of “hello,”“thank you” and “beer.”

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Who needs Good Morning, America? We were lucky enough to appear on Lithuanian National TV’s Labas Rytas.

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We played “Summertime” everywhere — like, we even played it in our hotel lobby at 3 a.m. for the staff. But my favorite spot was here in the studio at the Lithuanian National Radio station.

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The entire experience in Lithuania felt like a dream, but the show at Loftas Fest proved it was real. Here’s the view from the stage. We played for 3,000 people. (To put this in perspective, the last time we played at The Hi-Fi, there were around 100 people.) When we played the first G minor chord of "Summertime," I looked at Jeff, and I don’t think either of us have ever worn bigger smiles. The place went insane.

We’ll be at The Hi-Fi on Friday, April 22 to celebrate the release of our new record. It’s called Alio, which is a customary way of saying hello in Lithuanian.

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