Local band Comfort Tech a hit with President Obama

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Local rock 'n' roll band Comfort Tech can add "serenading and meeting President Barack Obama" to its list of accolades.

The four band members and housemates happen to live a stone's throw away from the Community College of Allegheny County's West Hills Center, where the president and Vice President Joe Biden spoke Wednesday about federal funding for community college programs.

When singer and guitarist Sean Conner, 24, realized POTUS and VPOTUS would be in their back yard, he said he knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But how to get the attention of the leaders of the free world?

They made a red, white and blue banner reading "Welcome Mr. President!" and hung it on their porch, above the driveway-turned-stage. The plan was to be respectful and not disruptive, he said.

As the motorcade drove by, Comfort Tech belted out an original, "Lumberjack."

"I definitely hit wrong notes because I was looking out in awe," said bass player and singer Brett White, 25. "It was surreal. It's not every day you get to play your music as the president drives by your house."

And no sudden movements, Mr. Conner, Mr. White, singer and guitarist Eric DiFiore, 24, and drummer Kevin Stripp, 23, were told by police.

"I think it was a unique visual for them. When they come to an event like this, they know what to expect. Everything has been planned out to the minute," Mr. Conner said.

In the back of his mind, he said he thought: "What if he actually comes over? But it was far-fetched as far as I was concerned."

Soon after, the Secret Service did show up.

"We thought for sure we were going to get shut down," Mr. Conner said, but they just wanted to tell the band how much they liked their music. While talking about gear, more unmarked cars and police arrived.

"Who's in the band?" they asked.

Mr. Obama wanted to meet them.

"I had a beer in my hand when they pulled in the driveway, and they told me I couldn't bring it with me," Mr. White said with a laugh.

A Secret Service van ride later, the band members, a coworker and one of their girlfriends waited in a hallway and were given a new set of rules: no cell phones, hands stay out of pockets and no aggressive movements.

Before they even saw him, they heard the president saying, "Where's Comfort Tech? Where's the band?"

After shaking hands and casually talking about the blues-influenced band's music for a bit, Mr. Obama told them to send him their CD when it's finished.

"He said he wanted to come over and hear us play but the Secret Service wouldn't let him," Mr. White said.

When they posed for a picture, Mr. White was standing next to Mr. Obama. "I did not touch him until he put his arm around me," he said.

They were invited to stay for the speech, after which, as the crowd cheered, Mr. Obama pointed to the band in the audience and said, "All right, Comfort Tech," with a smile and a thumbs up. In a room of the "most important people in Pittsburgh, among these highly respected individuals," Mr. Conner said the band felt like it had an inside joke with the president.

"Then," he said, "we had to walk home and convince people that it actually happened."

Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1878 or on Twitter @LexiBelc.

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