Faces of the U: Striking the right note

By By Ana Breton

By Ana Breton

Jenny Guerra was in Las Vegas waiting in her seat an hour-and-a-half before the start of a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert. She wasn’t there for the Peppers, though; she was there for the opening band, The Flaming Lips.

Suddenly, a stagehand came up to Guerra and her boyfriend, John White, and asked if they’d like to dance with the band during the show.

The Flaming Lips is her favorite band. She knew she couldn’t say no. With passes in hand, she went backstage with White and stood in front of a large closet full of animal costumes.

They couldn’t resist.

Guerra was a white rabbit; White, a pink panther. They ran onstage. The band started to play.

“It was the greatest moment of my life,” said Guerra, a junior in social work, with a smile.

“Until we got so hot we had to take our animal heads off,” said White, a junior in political science at Westminster College. “And the audience got mad and started throwing water bottles at us.”

The scene is not quite as wild when Guerra and White perform during their own concerts.

They’re both part of The John Whites, a local indie/rock/country band that started a little more than a year ago. White plays guitar, Guerra plays bass and their friends Ben Alvarez and Josh Brown play the drums and lead guitar, respectively.

Their debut CD, The John Whites Play Their Songs, was recorded in a garage.

But while Guerra enjoys her position as the only woman in the band, she has also branched out with her own band: Franklin.

On her computer, she records the guitar, drums and vocal parts, and then splices them together to form a track.

Franklin was the elementary school Guerra attended, a name she chose because many people don’t know her background and won’t be able to connect it easily.

“I write when I’m frustrated, usually about relationships or my parents or just about all the silly stuff that happens in life,” Guerra said. “And there are a few about John White in there, too.”

None of Guerra’s Franklin songs are available to the public, though; she pulled them from her MySpace page not too long ago.

“I’m still insecure about my music,” Guerra said. “When you open yourself up to people, it’s inevitable that some won’t like you and I tend to avoid that, because it’s just easier.”

Her musical talents, she said, came from her grandparents, who used to sing. She had a great-grandmother who had no teeth but used to sing with a parrot.

Guerra came to the United States from Panama, where she was born, 17 years ago, moving first to California and a year later to Utah.

Her mom is an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, working with STDs and HIV. Her dad works for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Guerra has worked as a hostess at The Olive Garden for nine months and volunteers at Mt. View Elementary School in South Salt Lake City with children who are refugees from Russia and Africa.

Guerra, along with White, works in the after-school program, tutoring and teaching kindergarteners through sixth graders how to hip-hop dance and play sports.

“I like teaching because it makes the kids feel better about themselves,” Guerra said. “Because the kids don’t know English, a lot of them feel dumb, so knowing the language makes them feel important and confident.”

During her free time, she likes to read comic books and go to dance parties.

When she graduates, she hopes to join the Peace Corps and become a school counselor.

“Even though I’ll be doing music forever, I think being a musician is selfish,” Guerra said. “I think it would be more fun to do something that actually makes a difference.”

Kim Peterson

Jennifer Guerra, a junior in social work, takes a call-in order at The Olive Garden, where she works most days of the week.

Kim Peterson

Jenny Guerra plays soccer with kindergartners at Mountain View Elementary School, where she volunteers three times a week, on Friday.