Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Woodtick reunites 'Billy Shears'

The Billy Shears Band headlined the
15th annual Woodtick Music Festival on Friday,
Aug. 1. Performing, from left, were Don Baumann,
Gerry Cain, Marc Maga, Dan Ewald and Dave Minter.
Drummer Adam Cain is not pictured.


Music fans cheered a reconstituted Billy Shears Band during the 15th annual Woodtick Music Festival in Hermansville last Friday.

The crowd packed the area in front of the stage as frontman Marc Maga led his six-piece group through acoustic and electric sets culminating in a dynamic performance of "Eleanor Rigby," the standout track from Billy Shears' 1984 LP.

Maga, a former Hermansville resident, was joined on stage by Menominee guitarist Gerry Cain, who appeared on several tracks on that record as a guest musician. The band's Woodtick line-up also included Cain's son Adam on drums, Don Baumann on guitar and Dan Ewald on bass. Billy Shears veteran Dave Minter supplied keyboards.

"It's great to be home again," Maga told the crowd.

Marc Maga

The band's opening program stressed acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies on songs from the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young live album, "Four Way Street." Their voices and guitars blended perfectly on "Find the Cost of Freedom," "Ohio" and "Love the One You're With," as the group recreated the three classic early-70s tunes.

"Chains" came next as the band delved into the 1962 chestnut from the Cookies, although most people remember the version popularized by the Beatles. The British group was a significant impact on the band as they took the Billy Shears name from the character who leads the Beatles' fictitious "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

Gerry Cain

The Billy Shears' sound was updated with the next selection, a crowd-pleasing rendition of "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," a hit for the punk band Green Day in 1997.

The band continued with a selection of oldies, including "Brown-Eyed Girl" and "Moondance" from singer-songwriter Van Morrison, as well as such Beatles' gems as "I Should Have Known Better." "We Can Work It Out," "Nowhere Man" and "You Can't Do That."

Their acoustic set also covered such popular songs as "Wish You Were Here" (Pink Floyd), "Cathy's Clown" (Everly Brothers), "Happy Together" (Turtles), and "Under the Boardwalk" (Drifters).

The band showed their harder-rockin' side during an electric set which focused on material from the 70s. They ably demonstrated their jamming abilities on the southern-rock classic "Can't You See" by the Marshall Tucker Band and "Come Sail Away," a top ten tune originally performed by Styx. A smooth version of "Hotel California" showed the band's command of the west coast soft-rock sound of the Eagles. All three songs date from the summer of 1977.

A throat-ripping version of Bon Jovi's biggest hit, "Livin' On a Prayer," proved the band could deliver late-80s rock, as well.

Still, the Billy Shears Band saved some of its most potent licks for a powerful take on Paul McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby." Known by many as the group's signature song, a definitive seven-minute version was included on the "Dangling the Carrot" album. There is no evidence McCartney ever heard the cut, but he probably would have been surprised by the inventive arrangement the band put together for his song, turning it into an explosive rocker.

Cover of Billy Shears' 1984 album

The long-player was recorded in Appleton, Wis. at Irish Saxe Studios and propelled the band's reputation as it played gigs in the upper midwest, including the Upper Peninsula and neighboring Wisconsin. The Fond du Lac, Wis.-based band's live shows are fondly remembered by many area fans.

That fan enthusiasm supported the band's touring schedule for many years and also led to a well-publicized and much anticipated reunion concert during the 10th annual Woodtick Music Festival in 2003. At that time, the band reissued their studio album on CD and also released a live Billy Shears band disc as well as a solo collection by Kenny Wells, the group's late lead singer.

Over the years, Woodtick-- traced back to a 1994 party in Brian Whitens' garage-- has grown rapidly.

Thousands of people are now drawn to the festival grounds each year by a variety of music, including rock, country, blues, folk and bluegrass.

Festival promoter Brian Whitens didn't imagine such growth when he organized the initial event. Hermansville tavern owner Kevin Warbis dubbed the get-together "Woodtick," combining 1969's legendary Woodstock Festival with a pesky insect found in the Upper Peninsula. "I had some "Woodtick" T-shirts printed as a joke," Whitens said.

About 100 family members and friends showed up and an annual event was born.

Music in the early years was supplied by the Whitens family and Hermansville resident Bill Martin, but the bill soon began to include a wide range of musical entertainment.

Woodtick built upon itself each year and by 2000 the festival was moved to downtown Hermansville. With attendance increasing each year, the festival soon outgrew that space and was moved in 2003 to the current location which provides plenty of room for parking and camping.

In 2005, Woodtick booked a national act for the first time. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performed a set which appealed to country, folk and rock fans alike. Well-known southern rockers Marshall Tucker Band appeared in 2006.

This year's Woodtick presented dozens of performers on two stages over four days.

"It's a U. P. thing," Whitens says.


Anonymous said...

We love the band and all it stands for. They came to our trailer and had the best chicken and corn on the cob,ever. Hi, it's Kevin & Robin from Christmas, Mi. You know the trailer you guys stayed at and had the best chicken in your life. I fixed the brakes on your station wagon, no charge----yet!! If anyone of you are still out there, contact us, please. We have a house in Florida and Appleton. We would love to talk to you again and take a float down the Autrain river, drinking a few beers and what-ever. We love you guys and I hope somebody reads this that knows us, cause I know the original band members could not forget the French's

Nancy said...

Is this Foggy's? If it is I have to say I had the best time of my life there in the 80's LOL