Peter Pan told Wendy that she could get to Neverland if she followed “the second star to the right, and straight on til morning.” It’s a place where the lost boys choose to never grow up. It’s also the name of Kerry Courtney’s indie-rock group, Goodnight Neverland.
Courtney came up with the name during a time of self-discovery after his mother passed in 2010 when he was 19 years old.
“For me, Neverland represents the place where you go and never age and everything stays the same,” Courtney said. “In your life, the people who have died or have left you in a bad way, on bad terms– It’s a point that you can return where everything is okay and it’s a cycle living in that. Everyone is still alive, everyone is still existing.
“It’s also an illusion, it’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s that idea, it’s something you’ll never get back.”
It was inevitable for the lost boys, Courtney and his two bandmates, brothers Jeremy, who plays drums, and Jordan Tellone, on bass, to grow up.
Now, Courtney is working on his first solo project away from Neverland.
Courtney has shoulder length brunette hair, piercing green eyes and a thick mustache attached to a bristling beard. The 26-year-old artist sports a v-neck and short jeans with the legs cut. While playing, Courtney’s intoxicated by the energy on stage. Off-stage, he’s quick to hug fans and tell jokes.
Over the past few years, Goodnight Neverland opened for Vance Joy, Switchfoot and Tides of Man. They book shows across the Tampa Bay area and have toured throughout the U.S. and Europe.
Courtney met his bandmates when they were around 10 years old while attending Countryside Christian Center, a large, non-denominational church based in Clearwater. Courtney’s father served as a pastor and the three children would practice in the choir room after Sunday service.
Kim and John Courtney, Kerry’s parents, were devout Christians, and they home-schooled him and his four siblings Kelsey, Hanna, River and Isabella. Courtney was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and his family moved to Florida when he was two years old.
His father worked nights, often sleeping most of the day so he could wake in the evening and head to work. He drove a bus, cut lawns for schools and was a part-time pastor. In the late 90’s, he decided to be a pastor full time. Courtney’s mother stayed home to raise and teach their children. She also volunteered as a midwife.
Courtney, Jeremy and Jordan quickly became best friends, and call each other brothers.
“We had this pull to each other because we wanted to do something more,” Jeremy said. “The church wasn’t it. It wasn’t the thing that fed us, kept us full. At a young age, we played music together and that was that feeling of being full.”
Courtney and Jeremy started playing music with Kelsey, his older sister. But Kelsey grew bored and dropped out. The two boys didn’t want to stop making music, so Courtney suggested he could take up singing.
“‘Maybe I can sing,’ that’s what he said to me,” said Jeremy. “Every time he sang he would blush, he was so embarrassed by it.”
But Courtney kept practicing and over time, he developed his voice.
“The evolution of my voice is pretty wild. For the longest time it sounded so shitty,” Courtney said. “It took years in the choir room messing around for a few hours a week to find it, but I’m proud of it now.”
Courtney’s mother loved to hear him sing. He said she was his biggest fan. After their first show at a bar, his mother bought the boys Shirley Temples.
Following the death of Courtney’s mother, the sound of their music changed drastically.
Kim Courtney was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which left her weak. Kerry Courtney remembered her teaching him and his sibling’s school lessons at her bedside.
“One specific day after a lot of tests, you could tell that something was wrong, but they gathered us all in one room,” Courtney said. “The doctors said she had a year. It was a surprise to all of us. We didn’t think it would be that soon.”
He had been planning an expensive six-month humanitarian trip to Australia. He struggled with the decision.
“I was thinking I’m going over there to help people, but would it be better to stay home and help her,” Courtney said. “I asked my mom for advice but she wouldn’t tell me. She said, ‘You have to decide that on your own.’”
In the end, he decided to go. While living in Australia, Courtney exchanged emails with his mother. In them, she detailed what she was going through, updated him on the family and reassured him not to worry. When he returned stateside, he saw the difference for himself.
Weeks later, at 3 a.m., his father woke him up. His mother’s heart had stopped, she was staying at the hospital. The family met in the waiting room where doctors told them they restarted her heart.
The rest of the week was painful. Kim Courtney passed on August 20, 2010. The next day Courtney started to write.
“After my mother passed I couldn’t play any of the old songs because I didn’t feel that way anymore,” he said. Instead, he began to craft something brand new. He wrote the song “Falling Not Flying” with his best friends, and they performed it at the funeral.
“For that song I was able to flow all of my emotions out and write that from where I was at, describe what I was seeing and capture all that took place,” Courtney said.
The band had evolved. They weren’t as heavy, instead, they played softer, more emotionally gripping music, so they decided on a new name, Goodnight Neverland.
Courtney’s determination not to cancel a show has placed him in some precarious positions. At one point, he was boiling water to use the steam to help him recover from throat surgery. He knocked over the water, spilling it across his lower body.
He sustained second and third-degree burns, two days before opening at a sold out show for Vance Joy. The doctors advised that he not play the show, but Courtney refused the recommendation. After a major surgery and skin graft, he took pain medication and performed.
In 2016, Courtney made it through the first round of American Idol’s final season. They produced a segment about his mother and him, then he sang “Black Sun” by Death Cab for Cutie for the judges. Jennifer Lopez described his performance as dark and different, then the panel gave him a unanimous yes.
He didn’t make it past the second round.
The future of Goodnight Neverland is murky. Each of its members is heading down different paths, and won’t be able to tour together in the foreseeable future.
Jeremy traveled to Asia last year and plans to go back. When he returned home he was diagnosed with lymphoma. His treatment was arduous but now he’s cancer free. He said that when out of the country he would return to tour if Courtney put it together.
His brother Jordan became a firefighter (correction from EMT), that responsibility leaves him little time to practice and perform. But Courtney is still hungry for music.
“Courtney is his music. He’s so attached to it and so passionate about it. I know he’s going to do that for the rest of his life,” Jeremy said.
Courtney is working on something for himself. He said that he’s been struggling with writer’s block for the past year. But music is his lifeblood and after some difficult self-reflection, he’s pushing himself further.
“A lot of the songs I’m writing is me confronting myself, and confronting yourself is such a beautiful thing,” Courtney said. “You can break the patterns you make for yourself and that gives me hope.