International rock star calls Johnson City home

Becky Campbell • Apr 15, 2013 at 11:16 AM

Sarah Bettens believes she’s had some of the coolest jobs in the world — from international rock star to firefighter and to top it all off, she’s a mom.

As a performer, Bettens has played some big stages for thousands of fans all across Europe, along with smaller stages in the United States, but she’s getting a little nervous about her next gig — the Down Home. Still, Bettens is excited that her band, K’s Choice, will start its upcoming American tour right here in Johnson City, the place she’s called home for the past 10 years.

“It is very exciting to kick off the tour at home. This is always such a special night for me, playing in front of friends,” she said. “Nerve wracking, but still really fun.”

The tour is to promote the band’s newest release, “Little Echoes.” It’s a compilation of songs Bettens and her brother, Gert Bettens, wrote about two years ago as the band reunited following a 10-year split.

“We’ll be playing some older K’s Choice tunes, cover songs and a Sarah Bettens solo tune as well,” she said about the upcoming Johnson City show.

K’s Choice, founded by the Belgian brother/sister duo, formed in the early 1990s and spent 10 years writing, recording albums and touring. They spent the next 10 years on solo careers and are now back together.

“Ten years of anything you do, as exciting as the job might be, it gets almost too familiar and you lose a little bit of that sense of adventure that you are doing it for in the first place,” Bettens said about her and Gert’s choosing to take a break from the band.

“It was the best thing for us. We both loved it, both made solo records,” she said. “I became a better guitar player and learned so much about myself, and worked with such great people I would have never worked with if we’d gone on with K’s choice. It was just a fantastic experience.”

Bettens also had a lot of personal changes as K’s Choice separated as a band, including her move to Johnson City.

“Sometimes it’s hard to separate my happiness in my personal life from my career ... getting divorced and meeting Stef (her partner), all happened at the same time I started making solo records. It’s hard to separate why I felt so happy,” she said.

Because of the band’s popularity in her native Belgium and throughout Europe, Bettens is much more recognizable there than here. In Johnson City she enjoys a refreshing anonymity, Bettens said.

Bettens and her partner, Stef Kramer, a bioengineer, are raising four children — Kramer’s two teenagers and the two 2-year-olds the couple adopted together.

After years of traveling with her band, Bettens found comfort in settling into a routine of school work, family conversations around the dinner table and diaper changes. She was also still in the music scene, but had a need for something different, she said.

Bettens found it at the Johnson City Fire Department.

“I needed something that had nothing to do with the world around the music ... that I felt like was going to be fulfilling, (working) with my hands, physical and challenging and something completely unfamiliar and uncharted territory,” Bettens said.

It turned out to be a short-lived career, but a great experience, Bettens said. The firefighting stint came about after Bettens became an American citizen, and she realized it was something she could do now.

She applied to the department, but there were no openings. About a year later, Bettens saw a JCFD advertisement for firefighter openings so she applied. She took the firefighter test and got the job.

After being hired, Bettens researched firefighting websites to learn more.

“This one guy (commented) ‘Firefighting is the coolest job in the world. All right, maybe being a rock star is the coolest job in the world.’ It was this one quote, like what’s cooler than being a firefighter? Maybe being a rock star,” she said.

“I thought ‘this is the coolest thing ever.’ I’m getting to do the coolest jobs in the world, you know.”

And Bettens got what she wanted in the way of a challenge, and she met it head-on. Unfortunately, the challenge of a firefighter’s schedule and a family of six didn’t blend very well. Bettens completed one year as a firefighter, but realized the huge toll it was putting on her family.

“It was hard work. It was very hard work with my family’s schedule and stuff, but it was so fun and so out of my comfort zone,” she said.

Bettens said she had planned to take 2012 off just for her family, but the firefighting job came along.

“I was going to be home for a year and hang out with everyone. No touring. And then before I knew it I was working harder than I ever had. I realized about a month ago that my job was making everyone pretty miserable,” she said.

“It was a good decision. I already feel it was the best thing for us, but it was hard. It broke my heart at the same time because I loved it.

“I could have done that job forever. I connected with a lot of people in the department. They were super nice to me, super respectful, super open to having a woman join the department. It was nothing but a fantastic experience for me,” she said.

But, Bettens said, she had to put her family first and walk away from the fire department. She’s almost finished with the emergency medical technician school she started as a firefighter, so she’ll continue on to receive that certification. And if the opportunity to serve the Johnson City community comes her way again, Bettens would consider it again.

For now, her focus is her family and the K’s Choice tour. After the opening night in Johnson City, the band heads to Maryland, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.

Bettens said the band is already working on its next project, which is due out in September.

“It’s for a documentary about an Antarctic expedition that two Belgian guys did. The movie’s being finished now. The single comes out at the end of May and the record comes out in September,” she said.

“It’s very different. We have some acoustic songs on there that are reminiscent of other songs we’ve done, but we have four or five instrumental pieces because its for the documentary.

“It’s really a whole different venture for us, from Little Echoes.”

K’s Choice will perform at Down Home on April 22 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 and available at Down Home and Campell’s Morrell Music.

For more information about the band, visit the website at www.kschoice.com or the Facebook page for K’s Choice.

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