Thinking on Broken Feet: Caitlin Kalafus Drums With Grit

“My whole body shook and I felt it in my heart.” Drummer Caitlin Kalafus said describing the feeling she got from the bass drum at her dad’s band rehearsal. At 7 years old, her love for the drums began. Her dad stole a drum set for the summer from the middle school he worked at for Caitlin to play. 

On Friday, April 29th at the Agora Theater, Caitlin will take her rightful place behind the drum set joining Tessa Violet, the opening act for Cavetown. The concert starts at 7:30 pm, click here for tickets. 

During a recent telephone interview, Caitlin recalls that as a kid, her parents took her to a neighborhood party where a band was playing. Her dad, in classic parent-style, went up to the band and told them that his daughter should hop on the drums and play a song. Caitlin said “I didn’t get off the kit for the rest of the night. The drummer was like ‘I’m done. She’s 12, this is not fair.’” Soon after, she began playing bar gigs in a band with her dad. At 12 years old, she looked like a miniature rock star with braids, a bandana and “drum sticks twice the size of my arms.”

From playing rock songs with her dad, John Bonham from Led Zeppelin became one of her inspirations. She started listening to them while still in the womb — her dad would put headphones on her mom’s stomach. A band she discovered on her own was Rush, with Neil Pert on drums. She described how the two drummers have very different styles. Pert is very technical and precise, whereas Bonham is hard hitting and raw. Caitlin said “I like those two styles because it’s how I am. I can play a show that needs to be the same every night but I can also improvise.”

When asked what we can expect from the show, Caitlin said “I think even if anyone hasn’t seen Tessa Violet before, they will still enjoy it thoroughly.” Tessa is an indie pop artist who got her start posting videos on YouTube. Caitlin described Tessa as a phenomenal performer because of how she gets the crowd going. There is a lot of energy, with hand waving, singing along, and crowd jumping. Caitlin said that watching a sea of people do that while being on stage is an amazing feeling. She said “I feel so in my element on stage, I’m up there having a blast.”

Caitlin will do whatever she needs to in order to keep the show going. One of the highlights of the tour so far was on April 15th when Caitlin had to think on her feet. Cavetown’s drummer tested positive for covid, so she offered to fill in. This meant staying up all night learning 17 songs for the show the next day. This hard work paid off as the concert went smoothly and the crowd cheered for her. Caitlin recalled the energy of the show that night, “the audience usually never screams for me.” 

Another example of Caitlin’s ability to think on her feet happened a few years ago when she was working a 9-5 job at a financial firm and playing gigs on the side. She was asked to audition for an upcoming tour — that tour being with Cyndi Lauper. It was the first well-known act she would play with, so she started practicing right away. However, three weeks before the audition, she was in a car crash and broke her right foot. She woke up in the hospital and said all she could think about was the audition. “I wasn’t going to stop there. I got home four days later and asked my dad to carry me into the basement and set up my drums.” She played around with different ways of drumming and ended up using a double-kick pedal that allowed her to play both the hi hat and kick drum with her left foot. 

On the day of the audition, she crutched into the room, trying to hide her broken foot. However, she locked eyes with Cyndi right away, who thought she was wasting her time. Caitlin put her hands together at her heart and said “I swear to god I’m not here to waste your time. I promise I can do this.” She said she had to lie a little bit, saying her foot would be fine by the tour, which left in a month. Cyndi agreed to let her audition, but “showed no mercy.” Caitlin said. “It was the hardest I’ve ever played.” Caitlin left the audition feeling exhausted, but knowing she gave it her best. As she was making her way to her car, Cyndi ran out the front door and yelled “Hey kid, you got the gig!” 

To close the interview, Caitlin said “I was impressing myself and not letting anything stop me from achieving something.” She said it’s a good quality to have, being “fearless to keep going despite a broken foot, no sleep, or time to learn a song. I’m just going to never give up.”

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