Panama City’s The Screamin’ Fleas return for the Third Annual Furry Fest Saturday, Feb. 20, at Alaqua Unleashed Dog Park in Santa Rosa Beach.
The event brings together two local animal charities, Alaqua Animal Refuge and HEART Animal Rescue, for a fun fundraising opportunity that includes vendors, pet activities, animal adoptions and live music from the Fleas.
Vocalist and guitarist KC Phelps categorizes the Fleas as a classic rock band and tells The Beachcomber how she and drummer Scotty Belisle crossed paths. “There used to be a record store down in St. Andrews,” she says. “And Scotty got my name from there and called me cold one day 16 years ago. We started talking, and we were on the phone for three and half hours. We just hit it off immediately—me and Scotty were two peas in a pod.
“We initially were Go-Go Juice, an all-original band. That’s all we played, because that’s all I knew how to play. I had never played any cover music before.”
During that time, Phelps was facing a medical crisis and the Screamin’ Fleas lineup became what it remains today—Phelps, Belisle, bass player Meri Middletown, and guitarist Martin Bell.
“I used to think, I want to be a singer-songwriter. Then after the throat thing (Phelps battled thyroid cancer), I realized that all I really cared about was singing. When you almost lose your voice, you start to realize what you really truly had. It made me realize how I just wanted to sing.
“Because of the where the thyroid lays, when they took off (the cancer), it took me about three months to be able to hold my voice steady and just to talk right,” says Phelps. “It took me about six months to sing, and even to this day I still have problems. And I don’t have near the voice I did. I had to re-learn how to sing.
“Well, first I had to re-learn how to talk, and then had to re-learn how to sing.”
She lost her voice, but in the process Phelps corrected a lot of what she calls “crutches.” “We all just get out there and start belting, and you’re learning incorrectly. Everybody—I don’t care who they are—they need to go take voice lessons to just learn how to sing correctly. It changed my whole point of view on music, as far as what I want out of it.”
Although the Screamin’ Fleas don’t have much in the way of recorded music, Phelps plans to record a solo album that will feature the band. She says the freedom of doing it in her space without time restrictions appeals to her and will help create a more authentic, energetic album.
As for Furry Fest, “This is the third year of the thing, and this is the third year that I have played it as a solo. I open it, and then this is second year the Fleas are playing it.
“It’s so much fun. They have dachshund races. The first year I didn’t see them, but last year, I was playing and in the middle of a song they started the races. I had to stop because I started laughing. There’s nothing funnier than a dachshund running, and when you get six of them running at once…” She trails off into laughter.
Phelps also supports HEART Animal Rescue through her weekly open mic at Buster’s in Panama City Beach that she calls “HootNite.” With all tips going to HEART, just over $2,000 has been raised so far.
Additionally, Phelps sees open mic nights as powerful starting places for musicians. “There were no open mics when I was young,” she says. “There’s just no way to get your feet underneath you if you don’t stand on a stage with a microphone. Open mic nights help create a sense of community and help us be connected a little better. I love that connection between everyone for building a thriving music community.”