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Here's a slide show of photos from over the Labor Day weekend in Oakfield of the Labor Daze Music and Food Festival, including many previously unpublished photos.
All photos by Howard Owens.
The Batavian provided the community with the most comprehensive, daily coverage of Labor Daze. If you appreciate what we do, please sign up for Early Access Pass.
The Floyd Concept, a Pink Floyd tribute band from Buffalo, closed out the third and final day of the Oakfield Labor Daze Music and Food Festival with a show that brought the legendary progressive rock band's most iconic recordings to life.
Photos by Howard Owens.
Rochester-based Public Water Supply, an alt-Americana band that artfully mixes tasteful covers with well-written originals, played Monday afternoon at Labor Daze in Oakfield.
The Pink Floyd tribute band, The Floyd Concept, is on the main stage from 7 to 10 p.m.
Photos by Howard Owens.
It was a packed park in Oakfield on Sunday night during the high-energy performance of Nerds Gone Wild.
Here's today's (Monday's) line of live music at Labor Daze:
- 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Batavia Swing Band
- 1 to 4 p.m., Exit 13
- 4 to 7 p.m., Public Water Supply
- 7 to 10 p.m.: The Floyd Concept
The Labor Daze parade is at 10 a.m. on Monday.
Photos by Howard Owens.
Music fans were clearly having a good time on Saturday night at Labor Daze during performances by a hardcore country band, Hazzard County, and the rockin' trio, Dave Viterna Group.
There is more music planned for the rest of the long weekend.
- 9 to 10 a.m., Christian Music Hour
- 10 a.m., Church Service
- 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Russ Peters Group
- 12:30 to 3:30 p.m., Songbirds
- 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., Dark Horse Run
- 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., Nerds Gone Wild
- 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Batavia Swing Band
- 1 to 4 p.m., Exit 13
- 4 to 7 p.m., Public Water Supply
- 7 to 10 p.m.: The Floyd Concept
The Labor Daze parade is at 10 a.m. on Monday.
Photos by Howard Owens.
More than 300 people turned out Sunday afternoon at Batavia Country Club for a free concert by the Ghost Riders, celebrating the group's 30 years of providing Genesee County with a hardcore country soundtrack.
When you look like Elvis -- to the point that people have a tendency to stop you in the street unless you wear a bit of a disguise -- and can sing like the King, there's a natural path to take in life, especially if you're already living in the entertainment capital of the world.
That's the situation former singing bartender and Niagara Falls native Rick Alviti found himself in more than 20 years ago when his career as an Elvis impersonator started in Hollywood.
That life path brings him and his show, "That's the Way It Was," to Batavia Downs at 7 p.m. Sept. 9.
"I like the people I meet," said Alviti when asked what he enjoys about his career. "I meet the nicest people. They're always so kind to me. When I'm out in stores or restaurants, people come up to me because I have this Elvis resemblance, and sometimes I wear a hat when I'm out, but when they come up to me, I always give them a card and invite them to a show. That's what I do for a living.
"Meeting people, especially the people who love Elvis, is the best part. They're excited to meet because they love Elvis. I'm fortunate to have that connection, and to me, that's a good thing."
After attending North Tonawanda High School, Alviti moved to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. He landed a job at Dimples, a bar across from the NBC Studio that was a favorite entertainment industry hangout. His gimmick was signing while he poured drinks, and already a huge Elvis Presley fan, he sang a lot of Elvis songs. But Alviti had a beard, so nobody yet noticed his resemblance to Tupolo's most famous son.
He landed an acting job and had to cut his hair and shave his beard. That's when, he said, everyone started calling him "Elvis."
He decided to get an agent and began getting serious about studying Elvis Presley's moves, watching his movies, and learning his songs. He got some gigs in Las Vegas and then the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority sponsored him on a national tour.
After his parents moved to Myrtle Beach, he visited them knowing, too, that J.D. Sumner and the Stamps (Sumner was long associated with Presley), had a long-term residency at a theater in Myrtle Beach. That led to meeting the theater owner, and after Sumner's death, Alviti got an offer to set up an Elvis tribute show at the theater.
That was a residency with a 12-piece band that lasted for years.
Doing two shows a day really helped him refine his Elvis impersonation, he said.
His career has led to shows all over the U.S. and several in Las Vegas, including at the Winn, the Mirage, and the Gold Coast.
That's where he met the Jordinairs (once backup singers to Elvis), he said. They became friends, and he performed with them. He's also performed with the Stamps.
He also played a birthday party for a playmate at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion, where he met Hefner, whom he said was a nice guy. He was provided one of the mansion's many bathrooms (he guessed 27) as a changing room but kept getting interrupted by people wanting to use it for "one of two things," as he put it.
As for acting, being Elvis has opened doors there, too. He played in a production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and was cast as Elvis in episodes of “ER” and “One Tree Hill.” He also played Elvis is a Rusty Wallace commercial for Miller Lite.
Alviti now splits time between Buffalo and South Carolina. When he's in the northeast, he tours with a five-piece band of guys mostly based in and around New York City. In South Carolina, he has another band, though when he's in the Nashville area, his band is led by the son of DJ Fontana (Presley's former drummer).
Tribute bands are a big deal now, but until Elvis impersonators, as they were called then, came along in the 1980s, musicians either played in cover bands or bands that played their own songs.
Impersonating some other act to the point of trying to sound exactly like that act and putting on their costumes was an industry waiting to be born.
"When I started out, there were maybe nine guys who did an Elvis tribute," Alviti said. "You had to look the part and sing the part and entertain the audience. Now there's probably 9,000 guys doing it."
He said it's probably for Elvis impersonators to get a start now, and a lot of guys doing it for "$200 and just to have fun. They just want to be Elvis for a bit. What I do is a professional production."
When he first started out, the Elvis Presley Estate was also much more concerned about Elvis impersonators, and he was contacted by representatives of Graceland. He said he told them that he wasn't trying to convince people he was Elvis. He was performing as Rick Alviti.
"You're allowed to do a tribute to anybody. That's in law," Alviti said.
When he was contacted, he said he told them, "I'm not saying I'm Elvis. I'm Rick Alviti. I happen to resemble him, but I'm not pretending to be Elvis."
He makes a point of calling his show "That's the Way It Was" without claiming to be Elvis Presley so he doesn't violate the estate's intellectual property rights. People who go to the show know they're seeing an Elvis tribute and not a substitute Elvis.
"Now. I think they've embraced tributes because it's helping keep the image alive," Alviti said.
He said his show is different from most Elvis tributes because it's interactive. He gets the audience involved. He performs many of the songs it expects to hear, such as "Suspicious Minds" and "A Little Less Conversation," and his set can change on the fly.
"I try to gauge the audience," Alviti said. "If I'm doing too many ballads, I'll add in some faster things, stuff that gets everybody going. I think I have a good sense of what the audience wants to hear."
While this show will be the "jumpsuit Elvis," he does do the "leather Elvis" at some of his appearances when the show includes an intermission.
"Elvis is great because there's four eras," Alviti said. "There's the early Elvis, the movie-era Elvis, the leather-wearing comeback-era Elvis, and the Vegas years."
This will be Alviti's first appearance in Batavia.
"I invite everybody to come out and enjoy themselves," Alviti said. "We will have a wonderful time. That's what it's all about, making people happy and making sure everybody enjoys the music of Elvis."
The Lumineers played Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on Tuesday. Also on the bill, James Bay (bottom three photos).
Photos by Philip Casper
There were some sharp elbows involved, says Bill McDonald, and Bill Pitcher's brother didn't expect the partnership to last when the two "Wild Bills" of the local music scene came together in Batavia 30 years ago to form the band that became the Ghost Riders.
But the partnership has thrived, producing some great music and some great memories for all involved as the Ghost Riders prepare for their 30th Anniversary celebration show at Batavia County Club at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 27.
By the time 1993 rolled around, both McDonald and Pitcher were veterans of the local music scene, with McDonald even venturing well beyond Genesee County's borders to pursue a musical career.
When he returned home, it was with the intent to take care of his family in their new home in Darien. Then a friend suggested he needed to start a country band.
He found a guitarist, and they started inviting in established musicians they knew who would fit into the hardcore country style they were after.
After a few rehearsals, they lined up a first gig and then the bass player had to hightail it to Florida because of some legal issues to resolve there, and then the lead guitarist quit to join an established gigging band in Buffalo.
At the same time, Pitcher's band Bullseye was running its course. The pedal steel player decided it was time to retire, and another member moved to Buffalo and another to Florida.
"So my band was dissolving right at the time that Bill needed a bass player and guitar player, so we kind of morphed into a good group of guys," Pitcher said. "We had all the elements we liked."
But still, no name for the band and gigs already lined up, including gigs originally booked for Bullseye.
Also, part of that original lineup was Jimmy Duval on pedal steel (Duval has played with McDonald for 40 years), Larry Merritt, and Jimmy Symonds.
The first gig was a long-gone tavern, Confetti's, located on property now occupied by City Centre.
"We played on a Saturday night, and it went over great," McDonald said.
"We’re hardcore country, country with a twang, with steel guitar and lead guitar, and we sang harmonies," Pitcher said.
McDonald said they drew on influences such as Merle Haggard.
"We wanted to keep real country alive," he said.
It was a few gigs into the band's career before they came up with a name.
One evening, the band was booked at the South Byron Fire Hall, and they decided to hold a band name contest. They invited fans to write new suggested names on a card. Then the band reviewed about 20 submissions and narrowed down the field to three "we could live with," McDonald said.
They read the names off to the crowd, and Ghost Riders, taken from the name of a song they played, and suggested by Fred Ferrell, was the overwhelming favorite.
"It may not be the most unique name, but it stuck," McDonald said.
In those early months, the Ghost Riders were a cover band even though McDonald was an established songwriter. The original songs would come later.
"It just was so hard to put all that together in a short period of time," McDonald said. "Everybody knew all the other songs (the covers), so it just made it easier. We learned (the originals) as we went into the studio to record an album. Then we practiced all of the original songs that we had. That's when we did our rehearsing, right in the studio. Yeah, that was pretty cool."
The Ghost Riders, in their career, have released five studio albums. None, of course, were big sellers, but they kept the fans happy, and there were always plenty of fans.
Pitcher remembers that on the first CD, the band included Ghost Riders in the Sky. They had to pay royalties -- eight cents for each CD sold. He ended up sending a check for about $3 to the publishing company in New York.
The band has also released another four live CDs, mostly compiled by Pitcher. There is a collection of songs recorded over a three-year period at the Stafford Carnival. There is another set recorded at a venue in Buffalo through the sound system onto a cassette that Pitcher said has just amazing fidelity considering the available technology.
Rarely, over the past 30 years, has the band traveled much beyond Western New York, but there have been gigs in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
"We never got a national booking agency involved with the band," McDonald said. "We had some chances to do it, but we booked our own stuff. We were getting up there. As I said, I was 30 when we started the band. He was 40. So we weren't a couple of youngsters."
McDonald had had his time on the road. As the frontman of Slim Chicken and the Midnight Pickers, McDonald toured throughout New York before moving the band to Texas (with a year at the end in California).
He even had his shot at a major record deal. One snowy winter night, his band was booked into the Cafe Espresso in Woodstock. That was a place favored by Bob Dylan and The Band at one time. The place was dead because of the winter storm. There was one customer, a man sitting by himself shuffling papers and just not leaving.
"I kept saying to the guys, why won't they close the place up and let's get the hell out of here?" McDonald said. "The owner said. 'We've still got a customer.' And he sat there all night. At the end of the night, after we played our last song, he came up to me and he told me, 'What are you guys doing tomorrow morning? Busy? I ask him who he is, and he says, 'I'm Harley Lewis. I'm from RCA Records in New York City."
He was an A&R man, and he wanted Slim Chicken and the Midnight Pickers in the studio in NYC the next morning to cut a three-song demo.
The band was in the studio and cut the demo, but the deal didn't come through.
McDonald said RCA decided to sign Pure Prairie League instead.
McDonald started his musical journey in Batavia with some friends and the band T&T and the Explosions, followed by Lookout Bridge and then Beethoven's Dream Group.
Pitcher’s musical journey began when he was five years old. His dad was a guitar and harmonica player who attached his harmonica to his guitar, not on a rack around his neck like Bob Dylan would popularize. As Pitcher and his brother, known locally as Uncle Rog, were growing up, their dad mostly played house parties, maybe six or 10 couples at the parties, maybe two or three times a week. He was a school teacher who drove truck in the summer.
When the Pitcher boys -- from Pavilion -- got older and had a band of their own, Dad would sometimes sit in.
"He never took a nickel for playing ever because he loved to play."
Then they formed a family band, Family Plus One. That band included another Pavilion boy, Charlie Hettrick, and Pitcher's mom, who bought her own Git Fiddle, which was a wire connected to a stick and a bell on top. She would hit the floor on the downbeat and pluck the string. Uncle Rog played drums.
By then, Pitcher was playing a little melody on guitar, which would give his dad a break on harmonica.
Most of the time, they played in Fulton County, where both of Pitcher's parents had extended family.
They would go into a bar and ask the bartender if they could play a bit.
"We had a good time in the bar," Pitcher said. "You know, in a half hour, 45 minutes, people would gravitate in. Somebody would make a couple of calls or something, and we would end up playing for two or three hours."
Before Bullseye, Pitcher was the leader of The American Countree Four. He was known as Wild Bill.
And McDonald, in Slim Chicken, was Wild Bill.
For years, fans would get them confused, both McDonald and Pitcher said.
"People would start talking to me, and I would figure it out -- 'oh, they mean a gig that Bill played,' and I'd tell him, and then he'd go, Yeah, somebody talked to me at a wedding reception, he thought that he was me," Pitcher said.
That's one reason Pitcher's brother didn't think these two guys used to leading their own bands would be able to put away the sharp elbows long enough to make music.
The first compromise was Pitcher, a few months older than McDonald, became "Mild Bill" while McDonald remained "Wild Bill."
Over 30 years, the Ghost Riders have played a lot of gigs. Most of them paid. There was a time when a good local gigging band could make a living in the warmer months playing lawn fetes and carnivals and picnics and parties. Every community had at least one annual event back then that needed live music.
Now it's much harder to find enough gigs, McDonald said. The band has also started other projects. McDonald and his wife Kay (who is also now a member of the Ghost Riders), for example, also tour as The Old Hippies. Pitcher has a few side projects, including a bluegrass musicians collective in Pavilion. Still, the Ghost Riders have some of the same gigs they play every year and have for 20 years.
One thing they've always done is play for free in support of good causes.
"We did a lot of civic stuff," McDonald said. "We thought when we started, we wanted to do what we could for the community for no money. You know, just do whatever we could do."
All along, the Ghost Riders have been all about the love of the music, both musicians said. That's the real secret to keeping the band going for 30 years.
"We just, we'd enjoy it," McDonald said. "We love playing music. And this is what gave us the opportunity."
Pitcher added, "My answer to why we're playing is because that's what we do. We love it. It's part of us. It comes from the heart."
All photos courtesy of the Ghost Riders.
The Ghost Riders Play at Batavia Country Club on Aug. 27 from 3 to 6 p.m. The current Ghost Rider members are: Gene "Sandy" Watson, Bill McDonald, Kay McDonald, Bill PItcher, and Nino Speranza.
CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS. Spellings have been corrected on the names of two early band members. The name of the non-family member in Family Plus One has been corrected. The full name of Bill Pitcher's other band is corrected to American Countree Four. One former band member is upset that he wasn't mentioned in the article. This is a short article intended to capture an overview of three decades of a band's history from the perspective of its two leading members. It isn't a book or magazine article. It wasn't intended to be a comprehensive history of the Ghost Riders. The Batavian does not have the resources available to produce such an article. There are multiple former band members who are not mentioned, and it simply wouldn't be possible to weave each of them in and out of the narrative. We apologize to any former member who feels slighted. The former member who contacted The Batavian, Brian Graz, was mentioned in the interview though not in a way that fit the thrust of the article. He could have been mentioned in relation to his contribution to one of the live CDs mentioned by Bill Pitcher. Pitcher did say Graz has a great year and contributed to the sound mix that makes that CD sound as good as it does. That was a detail, given the nature of the article, we didn't feel obligated to include. In follow-up conversations, Pitcher said the period the Graz was in the band was the era in which the band did sound its best. McDonald asked that we include a picture of the band "when it was riding high," which includes Graz. That picture is below.
Mike DelGuidice, a Billy Joel tribute artist when, in 2013, Joel invited him to join his band, brought his Billy Joel act to Batavia Downs on Friday.
DelGuidice closed out this season's Rockin' the Downs concert series.
Photos by Nicholas Serrata
By Dave Gil de Rubio
Whatever you do, don’t call “Brightside,” the Lumineers’ fourth and latest studio effort, a COVID-19 album, even though the band started tracking its nine songs in March 2021.
While founding member Wesley Schultz acknowledges the pair of two-and-a-half week sessions occurred during the pandemic time frame as the 40-year-old New Jersey native was hunkering down with his family in Denver, he feels this latest outing is its own thing.
“We kept saying it was like the post-COVID-19 record,” Schultz explained in a recent phone interview. “To me, it was not consciously trying to float above that while still observing that. In a lot of ways, we were trying to make a record that we’d want to hear in 10 years and it would still make sense…Part of the goal of the record, at least subconsciously, is to try to write an album that describes the pain without getting so caught in the weeds in using the words quarantine or pandemic. It was bigger than that.”
Like many-a-music act, when touring was paused in March 2020, the Lumineers’ time on the road came to an abrupt halt. Schultz went through what he felt like was a quasi-grieving process.
“You go through your confusion, anger and then acceptance,” he said. “I felt pretty stifled and down. I was out of my element for a while there. I think the writing helped dig me out of the hole and find a purpose again and maybe channel some of the stuff I was really feeling in a healthier way versus drinking every day or doing something that was going to distract me.”
And adding a baby girl to a brood that already included his toddler son helped give him perspective during this unprecedented time. “The way touring goes, you say yes to a hell of a lot more things than you say no, so I was forced to be grounded and to see my son and spend real time with him,” Schultz said.
“You’re like a workaholic in some ways because you’re hustling for so many years that it was a gift to be told that you have to stay still for a little while. Even though that was painful, I felt like what do I do with myself now? I felt useless. You crawl out of that and get a lot of beautiful time out of it. I feel way, way closer to my son than I probably would have had we been on the road.”
For the past decade, the duo of Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites have been the constants in The Lumineers (cellist/vocalist Neyla Pekarek was in the band from 2010-18), carving out a niche as one of the premier folk-rock/Americana acts through what is now the group’s fourth album.
The band’s breakthrough single was the 2012 Top 5 hit “Ho Hey.” Its simplicity taps into an organic vibe that has come to define much of the Lumineers’ work that Schultz has found to be lacking in a lot of pop music.
That straightforward simplicity comes across in spades on “Brightside,” whether it’s the opening title track that uses a cadence reminiscent of Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” while Schultz implores that, “I’ll be your brightside, baby, tonight” or providing reassurances during uncertain times amid bare-bones piano accompaniment and just a hint of strings amid the optimistic vibe of “Where We Are.” Both songs have provided a degree of comfort to the band’s fan base, who have shared their feelings on social media.
“Ironically, a lot of parents, whether it’s people I don’t know that are posting it or parents that I know personally, so many have sent me images of their kids singing ‘Where We Are’ or ‘Brightside,’” Schultz shared. “But particularly ‘Where We Are’ and they’re singing, ‘Where we are/I don’t know where we are’ and it’s these little kids, most of whom don’t even know words yet and they’re mouthing these words. That for me is very exciting to see. It’s like tapping into some kind of universal power.”
Suffice it to say that the creative restlessness that defined so much of how “Brightside” came out will be a driving force of what the Lumineers will bring to the stage on this summer’s tour.
“We have four albums out and we have to cut songs now and that’s a good feeling,” Schultz said. “We can actually put on a show that has no fat. As a band, we’re most excited to play. Not pulling a rabbit out of our hat, but having, from start to finish, moments [fans] won’t want to leave, grab a beer or take a leak. You want to just be there. I got to see Tom Petty during his “Wildflowers” tour and I forgot how many songs he wrote. I would never compare us to him, but in that feeling, I want people to leave hopefully saying, ‘I forgot how many songs they wrote,’ even just four albums in.”
Lumineers will be playing at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on Tuesday.
A larger-than-typical crowd jammed into Jackson Square on Friday night to catch Fleetwood Mac tribute band Songbirds perform the legendary band's best-known songs.
The five-piece band formed in 2020 comprises musicians from Genesee County and the immediate area and has been growing in popularity throughout Western New York.
Band members are:
- Dave Cocuzzi - Drums
- Jeffrey Fischer - Bass/Keys/Vocals
- Christian Hehr - Guitar/Vocals
- Maryssa Peirick - Keys/Vocals
- Julia Riley - Vocals/Aux Percussion/Ukulele
Photos by Philip Casper.
Cast members and leaders of Batavia Players' Summer Youth Theater want you to grab a seat for their production of “Cry Baby, The Musical,” this weekend, and the only question is: just where will that seat be?
Director Patrick Burk has been teasing the community’s curiosity with the debut of this show, via the sign outside of City Centre and an online post about the long-awaited opening of the new Main St. 56 Theater.
"We have done a great job, thanks to our community, raising needed funds for seating so that we could open the theater for our summer program. We still have a lot of work to do to complete the overall project. We are at approximately $41,000 of our $265,000 goal," Burk said Wednesday. "It is our hope that the community will continually support this fundraising effort so that we can complete the project by the New Year."
Even by Burk’s own recounting of the process, it’s been a long, arduous journey of paperwork, grant applications, construction details, COVID delays, increased labor and raw material costs, and, most importantly — fundraising, fundraising, fundraising.
"Much of the funds we raised paid for rent, interest, insurance and utilities while the project was on hold during Covid. Now, we have to raise all that funding again to finish the project. We have had a huge outpouring of donated materials and sweat equity from a number of individuals and local companies. More is needed," he said. "It is our hope that the community will look at this beautiful facility and donate to make it happen."
In May, Burk was at best hopeful for a September splash of the new downtown theater at Batavia City Centre. Batavia Players ramped up a “Be My Guest” campaign seeking donations of any amount to help pay for theater amenities, such as that seat you’re going to hunker down in to watch this musical billed as a rebellious teen comedy based on the 1990 film “Cry-Baby.”
"We are very excited to be opening this weekend with the cult classic 'Cry Baby' and present to the community this highly entertaining and fantastic production," Burk said. "Our cast is amazing."
Based in 1954, when everyone likes Ike, nobody likes communism, and Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker is the coolest boy in Baltimore, this show features a bad boy with a good cause: truth, justice and the pursuit of rock and roll.
Wade and the square rich girl, Allison, are star-crossed lovers at the center of this world, with plenty of detractors and distractions to get in the way for a fun plot. Or, as the show’s website states: It's Romeo and Juliet meets High School Hellcats.
“Filled with unforgettable songs and a truly unique and fresh story, Cry-Baby is a perfect choice for any theatre looking to add a-rockin' good time to their season,” the site states. “Cry-Baby, Allison and Baltimore's energetic juvenile delinquents will dance their way right into your audience's heart!”
Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday at 56 Main St., Batavia.
Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for students and seniors. Go HERE to purchase.
Why would a few friends in and around their 20s with roots in and around Batavia come together to play the music of Fleetwood Mac, a band whose biggest-selling album, “Rumours,” came out when their parents were barely out of their teens themselves?
It's timeless music, they say. It's authentic. It's fun and challenging to play. And everybody knows and loves the songs, even their coworkers and friends.
The Songbirds is comprised of
- Dave Cocuzzi - Drums
- Jeffrey Fischer - Bass/Keys/Vocals
- Christian Hehr - Guitar/Vocals
- Maryssa Peirick - Keys/Vocals
- Julia Riley - Vocals/Aux Percussion/Ukulele
The one person who connected all musicians together was Jeffrey Fischer, who met Peirick (the Christine McVie of the band) during high school in a summer musical theater camp and met Riley (Stevie Nicks) at an all-state chorus event while in high school, and Fischer played in various bands with Cocuzzi and Hehr.
All along, they all had a common love for Fleetwood Mac, but things didn't get rolling until Hehr posted on Facebook that he dreamed of playing in a Lindsay Buckingham/Fleetwood Mac tribute band.
Hehr, Fischer, and Cocuzzi joked around about it. The talk got serious when they learned Peirick and Riley were moving back to the Batavia area.
"I kind of got roped into this," Peirick said. "Batavia is home to me, and I moved back in 2020 and reconnected with Jeff. At the same time, Julia moved back from Portland, Oregon. They sort of pitched the idea to me. Jeff and Dave were like, 'Hey, do you want to be in a Fleetwood Mac tribute band? I said, 'I'll try anything once, right?' I've loved Fleetwood Mac for a long time, but I didn't think it would take off like this. I'm very glad that it did, but I definitely kind of got pressured into it, if you will."
The band played its first gig in Attica in December 2021. They're now playing six to eight gigs a month. A lot of them are private parties, which Riley said also gives the band a chance to stretch out and explore other bands from the same period, such as the Eagles.
"The parties are fun for us because we get to expand beyond Fleetwood and into other high-energy rock. We're Mac-heads through and through, but with the talent and interests across our group, it's always fun to explore other styles," Riley said.
On Friday, they will play what is arguably their biggest gig in Batavia yet -- a concert in Jackson Square. It's not their local debut -- they played a block party on South Swan last summer -- but Jackson Square shows always draw a lot of local music fans.
Buckingham to Nicks and McVey
Hehr doesn't shy away from being called a Fleetwood Mac nerd. He's the guy who tracks down every possible live recording, watches all of the documentaries, and reads the books and articles. He's just the guy a tribute band needs to bring some historical context to the act and also the musical knowledge to help the band get inside the heads of the artists they're emulating.
"I like studying the parts and finding the patterns in the songwriting -- so, like how Stevie writes versus how Lindsay writes, and identifying those elements in it," Hehr said. "So when we bring it into practice, if we're having trouble figuring out a certain part, I can contribute and say, 'well, knowing Stevie, her chord progressions are very simple and very back and forth, so chances are, it's this chord.'"
Hehr's love of Fleetwood Mac started with guitar. He started playing when he was 13, but it wasn't long before he abandoned picks. He preferred early on playing with his fingers, and this led to an appreciation of fingerstyle guitar, an area where Lindsey Buckingham is a master.
"I just had an affinity for Fleetwood Mac through Lindsey Buckingham's playing," Hehr said. "There was one song I always vowed to myself that if I could ever play it, I would consider that I've made it as a guitar player, and that was 'Never Going Back Again.'"
"He uses Travis picking often," Hehr explained. "'Never Going Back Again' is a good example of him using compound rhythms. He's playing quarter notes with his thumb, but he's doing triplets with his other fingers at the same time, and somehow it works out. It's just incredible.
"When I was finally able to play that song, I was like, I felt so good about myself. I felt very accomplished because that song is very intense and very complicated. I loved the challenge of it, and it was gratifying to finally get it."
While most of the band gravitates to the era of Fleetwood Mac that featured Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks, Jeffrey Fischer is more of a Peter Green-era Mac fan.
Peter Green was the original lead guitarist and a bit of a mythical figure among guitar aficionados because he accomplished so much in such a few years before apparently losing his mind to LSD.
"Peter Green, in my opinion, was the most progressive, in the weirdest experimental way, pushing the boundaries of what blues is, and it's just great to listen to. It's more psychedelic. It's breaking all the rules in the best ways," Fischer said.
And because the Songbirds are a group of top-notch musicians, they love including some of those early Mac tunes in their sets.
"It's really an opportunity for myself and the other instrumentalists to jam out and show off our chops," Fischer said.
But what he appreciates most about being in a Fleetwood Mac tribute band, he said, are the close harmonies. Since he's the bass player, the John McVie of the band, and McVie isn't known for overly complicated bass parts, it gives Fischer a chance to sit back, in a manner of speaking, and enjoy the vocals.
"I've always wanted to be in a band that was able to sing very tight together," Fischer said. "I would say my chorus teacher in high school really instilled this love of harmony in me. The Beach Boys, Doobie Brothers, the Eagles, all of these bands that are able to sing so close, even the Beatles, he instilled in me how beautiful harmonies can be. And not only just in terms of music but in terms of like a life philosophy, how it is just great to harmonize with one another."
The Songbirds have been a chance for Peirick to get back to musical performance, something she studied for two years at SUNY Fredonia but took a break from for a few years to take on a nursing career.
"It definitely scratched that itch for me," Peirick said. "When they asked me to come back to do this, it had been approximately eight years since I'd touched a piano. And I guess they weren't lying when they said it's like riding a bike."
The live music experience
While some tribute bands put their own touches on classic songs, and others try to precisely reproduce what audiences are used to hearing from studio recordings, the Songbirds have studied Fleetwood Mac's live recordings and try to bring that energy and vitality to their performances.
"There are a lot of tribute bands that recreate the studio tracks," Hehr said. "That alone is super duper challenging. You're compensating for layers and layers of tracks (recorded in the studio). I think one of the areas we excel in is being able to listen to Fleetwood Mac and ask, 'How did they do it live? How would they have done it back in 1976? And what parts were they prioritizing?' And then that clues us into what they were thinking about -- what was the most important part of that song for them to do? Why is Lindsey not playing this part? Why is Stevie not singing this part? So, in that way, we are trying to recreate that live Fleetwood Mac feel."
Fischer likes trying to recreate the Fleetwood Mac experience as a live band because that is what it was like going to see the band in concert back in the 1970s. That discovery of something new is why people paid for a ticket in the first place.
"It carries on that torch," Fischer said. "It carries on that tradition, that live music is something you can't experience anywhere else. Every live show is different, and you're getting something unique at each show."
Peirick said the Songbirds, with their play-it-live ethos, bring something new to the tribute band concept.
And she isn't surprised to see people across generations going for it.
We all know the songs
Everybody, she said, loves the music.
"It was just the golden era of California music," Peirick said. "(Rumours) was the perfect summer album that people can just pick up at any point and say, 'Wow, this is really catchy and really good.' I think that it stood the test of time because of that. I think that a lot of people, regardless of age, find it really agreeable."
She recalled talking to a trainee at work recently. She mentioned she played in a Fleetwood Mac tribute band.
"Fleetwood Mac? Who's that," the trainee asked.
So she played her three songs -- "Go Your Own Way," "Dreams," and "Everywhere."
"And she said, 'Oh, these are all Fleetwood Mac. I definitely know Fleetwood Mac.' So I think that's part of the appeal, too, right? It's the music that we all know, that we're all familiar with. But we (the Songbirds) sort of bring new energy to it because we're doing the live versions of the way they perform the songs instead of the studio versions. So it's a fresh twist on an old favorite."
Fischer is pleased to see things working out so well for a young band that started out with a half-joke of "Let's start a Fleetwood Mac tribute band."
"We're receiving a lot more attention than I ever thought we would," Fischer said. "We're playing venues that bands who have been together for years and years have not had the opportunity to play. We're just really excited to see where it takes us."
Songbirds play this Friday, Aug. 11, in Jackson Square from 7 to 9 p.m. and from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sept. 3 at Triangle Park in Oakfield. Admission is free.
Supporting acts for headliner Don Felder were the High Water Band and Yachut Fathers.
Photos by Nick Serrata.
American Rock band Matchbox Twenty headlined at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on a cooler Tuesday night in front of 9,000 fans, playing songs on their Slow Dream Tour.
Some popular hits include 3 A.M., Unline and Push.
The band originally was first scheduled to play on Aug. 29. 2020. That show was canceled because of restrictions on large gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The supporting act was Matt Nathanson.
Photos by Steve Ognibene
After 20-plus years as the drummer in Godsmack, one would think drummer Shannon Larkin had seen it all – and undoubtedly he has seen a lot. But he said when the group wrapped up rehearsals in April for the first leg of 2023 touring, he heard Sully Erna, the singer, songwriter, rhythm guitarist, and founding member of Godsmack, say something he’s rarely expressed ahead of the launch of a tour.
“By the end (of rehearsals), Sully isn’t usually like ever ‘We sound great.’ It’s always ‘Ah, you know, we’ve got work to do.’ Even (after) a year on tour, he’s still messing with the set list,” Larkin said. “We ended this with him (Erna), who never really gives it up and says we sound great, he says ‘We sound great. We’re going to be OK.’”
The guys in Godsmack – Erna, Larkin, guitarist Tony Rombola and bassist Robbie Merrill – have good reason to be on point. This will be the last time the band does what’s known as a cycle tour, where music acts typically spend a year-plus on the road promoting their latest album or EP.
Erna and his bandmates have recently announced that their new album, “Lighting Up the Sky,” will be their last as Godsmack. With that, the band will no longer need to do the cycle tours that have followed each of their eight studio albums. It’s not the end of the road for Godsmack, just time to ease up on what has been a rather all-consuming career.
“I hope everybody knows we’re not going away,” Larkin said, reassuring fans that Godsmack is not breaking up. “We will go out and play after this (cycle tour promoting) ‘Lighting Up the Sky’ is all done. We’re going to call each other up and say ‘Hey man, let’s go rock two or three weeks of shows this year’... And (we’ll) be able to control our lives for once instead of music controlling us.”
That last sentence gets to a key reason Godsmack are done with making full albums. Since seeing their 1999 self-titled debut album go quadruple platinum and spawn four top 10 singles, Erna, Larkin, Rombola and Merrill have felt pressure to live up to the successes of their previous output every time they’ve made a new album.
They’ve thrived despite that, building a catalog that includes 26 top 10 singles, 12 of which have gone No. 1 on “Billboard” magazine’s mainstream rock chart. But it’s time to say goodbye to the weight of expectations.
“You have lots of pressure to be successful and to continue to be successful. And the pressure sometimes is in your own mind and you’re putting it on yourself,” Larkin said. And the fact is, Godsmack have achieved everything the four band members set out to accomplish.
“We finally came to the decision that gosh, we’ve climbed the mountain that we envisioned reaching the top of when we are 10-, 12-, 13-year-old kids picking up our instruments,” Larkin said. “We don’t want to quit. But we do want to just, I like to say, jump off of the machine and not have to sell product after so many years of touring and selling product.”
There are other reasons why Godsmack will gear things down after the “Lighting Up the Sky” cycle. Some of the band members want to spend time with their families or have other hobbies and interests they want to pursue. And with the band members in their 50s, it’s not getting any easier to meet the physical demands of extensive tours.
The band members also feel with “Lighting Up the Sky,” they’re ending their run of Godsmack albums on a high note. Larkin said “Lighting Up the Sky” was the easiest album Godsmack has made, and to a man, the band members consider it their best release yet.
“For this one, we wrote over 20 songs. We had three years, with the pandemic and stuff. In fact, at one point we had written pretty much a whole record of music, and it was a totally different thing where it was like Pink Floyd, long-ass songs,” he said. “We wrote like 11 songs (initially) and we ended up keeping ‘Surrender,’ ‘Growing Old’ and ‘Red, White & Blue.’ Those three stayed. We had taken a break from writing and he (Erna) comes back with ‘Soul On Fire’ and God, it was just relentless, ‘What About Me’ and ‘Let’s Go.’ Just all of these songs started just pouring out and it was so easy for us and we were like ‘Wow!’”
Now it’s time to hit the road, and Larkin said several of the new songs will be in Godsmack’s visually spectacular shows. (“We blow a lot of stuff up live,” Larkin noted with a chuckle.) The band members, after all, are promoting “Lighting Up the Sky.” But fans will hear plenty of the hits, too.
“We know that look, even if our new record is our favorite one and it’s great, we can’t oversaturate a set list when we have all of these radio hits that people expect to hear,” Larkin said.
Godsmack will be playing at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on Sunday.