Aretha Franklin and Randy Travis did it. Johnny Cash did it country and Rockapella did it a cappella. It's been done with Celtic fiddles, gospel choirs and really cheesy 1960s-styled folk guitar. Once, it even featured an appearance by Scott Bakula. For the last 25 years "The Best Part of Waking Up" Folgers coffee jingle has gotten stuck in all of our heads, in all its many forms, for better and for worse. (It's stuck in your head right now, isn't it?). And, recently, Missoula's own Ethan Thompson Band won $25,000 in a Folgers jingle contest, getting to share in that rich, pre-ground history.
Ethan Thompson, the singer-songwriter for the band formerly known as What Rhymes with Oranges, doesn't even drink coffee. But he does know that coffee culture has changed since that first sleepy-eyed, morning brew scene in the 1984 "Horse Farm" Folgers commercial that launched the brand's signature song.
"When I first heard about [the contest] I was talking to one of my friends who's a business major," says Thompson. "He said Folgers is probably trying to revamp their brand because so many kids are going to Starbucks these days."
That, and the kids are flocking to the local coffee shops that promise a social atmosphere along with their free trade coffees and espressos prepared in a multitude of ways. At any rate, coffee drinking appears to have become a culture centered on shops rather than the comfort of home. Thompson says that his jingle is based on the idea of beckoning young people, in particular, back to the concept of cheap home-brewed coffee. With that idea in mind, the band made a homemade Folgers commercial, which shows guitarist/singer Thompson, bassist Landon Lee, drummer Dan Coburn and singer Jenny Snipstead hanging out on a sunny morning, making coffee at what looks like a typical college students' house. The song begins with the line, "Each morning I wake up in all these broken bottom shoes, these days have got me blue again," and ends with "The best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup." The song's performed with a reggae-lite undertone, utilizing a can of Folgers for a percussion shaker.
"I just started singing about broken bottom shoes because everyone's shoes are kind of beat up around here, and it's something people can relate to," he says. "And that whole feeling of getting up and maybe feeling down but everyone's here to make you feel better...and Folgers is here. And that's what you've got to do for a commercial."
Thompson grew up in Whitefish playing piano, and when his family moved briefly to Alaska he sang in a children's' choir there. But it wasn't until he started attending school at the University of Montana in 2008 that he really began seriously writing songs. He formed What Rhymes with Oranges with some college friends and played a few shows around town. Realizing that he wanted to focus on music, Thompson took time off during his second year at UM. That's when he heard about the contest and convinced his band to put together the video. In March, the members learned that they had reached the top 10. In late April, they found out they made the top five, and for a full week they were sworn to secrecy by the contest officials until the news came out on the Folgers website. And then it was off to New York.
"It was crazy," says Thompson. "Most of us had never been to the East Coast before and none of us had ever been to New York City. When we got there, there was a guy holding a sign with our name on it for a limo. Going through Queens we were just kind of hanging our heads out the window looking up and seeing how big the city was."
The following day involved soundchecks and rehearsals. The band met the other contestants and the judges, including music producer and "American Idol" panel judge Kara DioGuardi.
But it's the morning of the contest that Thompson says he remembers best. The band members got up early and, before they left their hotel room, Coburn gathered the musicians in a circle and proceeded to enact the winning moment.
"Dan was trying to pump us up before we left the hotel for the competition because we were all trying to stay calm," says Thompson. "We got into a circle and Dan gave a spiel and then he said, 'And the person who wins is...the Ethan Thompson Band!' And I kind of got a little bit nervous right then. But it was like imagining the moment in order to make it happen. And then, during the contest it actually happened exactly like that. It was surreal."
Thompson says that even though the band's jingle won first place, it's still not clear if and when the song will appear in an actual Folgers commercial. In the meantime, the band's waiting for the check in the mail and looking forward to its upcoming show this week at the Palace. It'll be one of the band's last shows considering Thompson was recently accepted to Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. He'll begin classes in the fall and turn his attention full-time to his own, jazz-inspired music.
"I definitely want to do my music professionally and we'll see if this Folgers thing is a good way to get my foot in," he says. "Everybody seems to love the jingle. I hope they'll like my songs just as much."
The Ethan Thompson Band plays the Palace Thursday, June 17, at 9 PM with Kevin Koutnik and Lauren Wagner. $5.