“If it's not broke, don't fix it”, states William Koepke, event coordinator for the annual Saginaw On Stage Music Festival, which since its inception 9 years ago has evolved into a pivotal fundraising event for the Saginaw Rotary Club, raising over $120,000 for local charities and organizations, while serving as a broad showcase to feature over 30 musical groups & artists that define the canvas of musical talent populating the Great Lakes Bay region.
This year's event will once again be held on five different stages at Apple Mountain Resort in Freeland on Saturday, April 7th from 4:00 - 11:00 PM with continuous performances held in two large ballrooms, one intimate lounge, the ski lodge and the chapel, giving music lovers an opportunity to sample a broad smorgasbord of entertainment and tastes ranging from Folk, Blues, Country, Pop, Rock and Jazz to Celtic and Gospel.
“Our immediate project to be funded by SOS this year is our dictionary project,” explains Koepke. “We'll be passing out dictionaries to 3rd graders in the greater Saginaw area. Additionally, we are starting to fund a significant local project serving as a permanent structure for the community that will take place in 2014. Project specifics are still being worked out.”
In the past, Saginaw On Stage beneficiaries have included The Sleepsack Project for 3 years running, which involved providing sleepsacks for all newborn infants in Saginaw County for the prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the Saginaw Art Museum, Pit & Balcony Theatre, The CAN Council, The Children's Museum, Saginaw Choral Society, Child & Family Services, Riverfront Development, Saginaw County Business & Education Partnership, The Community Prescription Support Program and The Saginaw Family Care Network.
“We have two 'big bands' added to the mix this year,” continues Koepke, “The Baytones and The Saginaw Elite Big Band, plus popular favorites like The New Reformation Band will be back and they will be bringing a surprise guest. We have 11 new bands and artists this year, or artists that have transformed and combined forces. Every year we try to bring in at least 30-40% new talent.”
“This year we have a new sound man as well,” notes Bill, “with the passing of our dear friend, Al Limberg Al assisted with our event from the beginning and we miss him dearly. Art Bissonette of Bissonette Sound & Lighting will take over this year.”
“Most of the set up will be the same, as we feel we've established a pretty successful formula,” concludes Bill. “We do try and make a few enhancements each year, such as adding the shuttle bus a few years ago. And this year we'll have more high top tables in the back and sides of the room, along with a VIP sofa lounger in the East Ballroom.”
In addition to such popular favorites as Equinox, Brush Street, The Laurie Middlebrook Band, Robert Lee Revue, The Thunderchickens and Jedi Mind Trip, two new acts making their Festival debut are The Beets and The Saginaw Elite Big Band (see special profiles below).
A complete dinner buffet and cash bar service is available throughout the evening and advanced tickets are $20.00 for adults and $5.00 for students; $25.00 at the door, students $10.00. You can order tickets by phone with a credit card at 989-776-9425 or go online to www.saginawrotary.org.
Although they've only joined forces collectively since last August, the members comprising The Beets possess a long legacy of talent and experience that carries their newest musical endeavor to an entirely new level of excitement and musicianship.
Consisting of Tim Barocko, an original member of The Kixx Band, on lead guitar, bass, lead & harmony vocals; Mark Ode, who's performed in bands for decades, most recently with the Laurie Middlebrook Band on lead bass, guitar, lead & harmony vocals; Donna Taylor, formerly with The Amazing Pups on lead & harmony vocals; and Dan Wall on drums, lead & harmony vocals, the group will also be enlisting the talents of guitarist/vocalist Brian Ashton for their Saginaw On Stage performance.
Given the collective track record and individual experience of each member, this group has an incredible wealth of material that quickly beckons audiences to the dance floor. “Everybody knows an incredible amount of songs,” explains Donna, “and we can perform everything from The Beatles to Bruno Mars, The Supremes to Lady Gaga, Aretha Franklin to Kay Perry, and Journey to Adele.”
Although Donna was living in Washington, D.C. for 16 years after her stint with The Amazing Pups and Mark took a 23-year hiatus from music when he went back to school, resurfacing to join Laurie Middlebrook a few years ago, both Tim and Dan agree that the chemistry forged by members of The Beets is exceptional, and their timing couldn't be better.
“The material that we perform spans decades and the fact that everybody in the band sings so well give us a significant advantage,” reflects Tim. “The chemistry of this group has been amazing. Our first gig was at the Auto Festival in Frankenmuth last summer and since our inception we've become like a family - we click both musically and personality wise.”
In addition to their Saginaw On Stage appearance, The Beets are also slated to perform at the Shields Festival, The Bay City Fireworks Festival, and Roethke Park this summer.
Before Mark joined the group, The Beets did a gig in California and this July they'll also be performing up at Bay Harbor. “Out in California we tried something different by handing out an entire song list to the audience, inviting people to come up and sing with the band, similar to what a Karaoke host might do,” explains Tim, “only with a live professional band playing behind them. It can be a challenge for both the band and the person stepping up to the microphone to sing with a live band, but it's also remarkably fun.”
“Essentially, we're a variety band that appeals to a wide range of people,” adds Tim. “And with Donna we can play a whole new array of songs from Aretha Franklin up to Adele and Lady Gaga, so in a way its like the Kixx Band on steroids”
Mark reiterates the vocal prowess and textures at each musician's disposal thanks to each members strong vocal ability. “Each member is such a strong vocalist that I feel in many ways our vocal presence is a distinguishing factor for the group, developing a persona of sorts all on its own.”
The group says they intend to concentrate mainly on performing festivals and corporate or private parties, weddings, along with the occasional nightclub. “The fact that we all have regular 'day jobs' takes the pressure off and each of us are seasoned enough to have fun with this and enjoy what we're capable of achieving,” notes Dan.
“We know where each person's vocal capabilities lay, so that helps us determine how the harmonies should also be framed,” reflects Tim. “Our goal with every song that we tackle is to be as faithful to the original recording as possible, because we want people to recognize the song and be able to dance, or sing along to it, whatever the situation or occasion.”
The Saginaw Elite Big Band
For Jazz lovers, The Saginaw Elite Big Band is a veritable dream come true - a new band comprised of professional musicians that are experienced veterans of local variety, concert and ballroom dance bands that have performed in around the Great Lakes Bay region over the last 25 years.
Consisting of 13-members with varied backgrounds in several respected jazz & concert ensembles, the group consists of Vickie Bowden and Jon VanRegenmorter on alto saxes; Steve Rodriguez on tenor sax; Tim Burgess on baritone sax; Archie Sawyer, Bill Howard, Kunio Ouellette on trumpets; Matt Wicke, Erik Ludwig & Lenny Benitez on trombones; Chuck Edwards on drums; Jason Maurer on bass; and keyboardist Michael Gray. Indeed, various members have participated in outfits ranging from The Saginaw Eddy Band, 3 Penny Revue, The Bijou Orchestra, along with major Broadway productions, to just name a few.
According to Tim, the genesis for The Saginaw Elite Big Band began when Burgess and Bill Howard. along with a few others, were playing in the Saginaw Eddy Band. “We participated in another big band in the area and, similar to rock bands, had come to differences of opinion about what we were doing and should be doing. We'd talk about it on breaks and would envision and talk about what we could achieve if we tried pulling our own thing together. We developed some good contacts from Archie and with Matt, one thing led to another.”
“As a general rule, people that hear the name 'big band' tend to associate it with a certain type of music,” reflects Bill. “We decided to mix it up and change that perception. We do some swing numbers, but we also have a lot of contemporary material from the 1970s and '80s. We're working out everything from Tower of Power to Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Fortunately, we have access to a huge data base of sheet music.”
Obviously, pulling together any musical outfit can be a challenge; but getting a group consisting of over a dozen members together on the same page can be daunting. “Basically, we just decided that we could do this and pull it off,” states Tim. “We started with some of the best players in the area and then decided to perform only the cream of the crop when it comes to material; so with the musicianship and the way it was being shaped, hence the name of the band.”
“Our first rehearsal was amazing,” adds Archie. “Everything clicked. There were 13 of us in the room and the first song we tackled was April in Paris from a Count Basie arrangement; and from the first downbeat we were all in the groove. All the horns were in sync. Our jaws just dropped.”
Indeed, because of the number of musicians involved, the group rehearses only twice per month; but when they do, its for long 3-hour plus sessions. Still, with such a sizable outfit, don't they need some type of conductor to assure things don't become chaotic?
“We don't have a conductor, per se,” smiles Tim, “but what we did is select Vicky, our key alto player, as the point person when it comes to running rehearsals. She has a personality that is reminiscent of a natural born leader, so we asked if she would consider running the rehearsals. Consequently, when we get together, she will suggest a song to work on, but then each of us will bring stuff to the table. But you're correct, we do need a focal point to say 'should we redo this song, or try it again?'
Since they first converged back in September, 2011, the group has a library of close to 2,000 songs they can assess; and busily polished a good 20 songs together over four rehearsals prior to their first appearance at the Dow Event Center before a Saginaw Spirit game last fall.
“Getting 13 people together at the same time can be challenging,” admits Archie, “especially considering one of our members is presently performing in three or four different bands; but so far it hasn't been too bad. We've picked up some incredible subs to fill spots if needed, which is another important factor.”
When asked what they feel is a distinguishing factor of their new ensemble, Bill quickly points to the way he feels the music itself has been brought up to higher level. “We're not just an average run-of-the-mill band that can pull off a song and have it sound okay. When we play you will hear the best music from the best musicians in this area. That's why we came up with the name 'Elite' for the band. It says it all. Our goal is to stand out above the rest and our goal is to set high standards for our music, so when people hear our name they will want to go out and hear us play.”
“And like Bill says about the music, we want to take that notion and bring it to our image as well,” adds Archie. “We don't necessarily dress professional, but we all wear black jackets that are causal but nice. Our music stands are jet black with a car paint quality to them. We want to the performance something people remember. And with the music, we take a song, work it, shine it up as well, so any song we do sounds really good.”
With Matt being one of the younger members of the Elite Big Band, I'm curious as to how he feels the interest level of jazz music sits with younger listeners and audiences.
“It depends upon how open-minded they are,” he reflects. “Even though a lot of jazz music comes from different eras and generations, some people only want Top 40 radio. I teach music at White Pine Middle School and a majority of the kids that I work with listen to jazz and see the professionalism involved with creating it. When they listen to jazz they don't' always enjoy it right away, but after awhile they respect it - how difficult it is to perform and the talent involved with playing it. I have all my kids do Improv at some point and they realize how people have to work hard to become good at performing this material.”
“As more people hear this music - especially the more Modern stuff like Buddy Rich, I feel we will attract a wide range in terms of audiences,” concludes Bill. “We're trying to use as many different types of music as we can.”
Even Miles Davis, I ask?
“No, not yet,” laughs Bill, “but we're not ruling anything out.”
“We're slowly building the library up and are breaking the mold in terms of performing nothing but standards. I think we're going to be very successful at doing that.”
For more information on The Saginaw Elite Big Band go to their website (which, by the way, was also designed by Vicky) at www.saginawelitebigband.com