Peter Paul & Gary (yes, you heard right) are going into their 24th year together as a band, and they are unoriginal in every way. Intentionally.
On September 13 they will headline the 12th Annual My Favorite Bands festival, where they will entertain the patrons of the Moxi Theater in Downtown Greeley with a performance of, as per their own tradition, an iconic movie soundtrack.
As a bunch of adults who grew up when movies like Footloose and Pretty in Pink were in theaters, they definitely feel a sense of community and closeness when they play these songs together.
“It’s really just an excuse to get some high school buddies together,” said band member and co-founder Colin Bricker in a phone interview for BandWagon.
All ten members of Peter Paul & Gary (and yes, there’s a Gary, guitarist Gary Schillinger) had their ties to Greeley, mostly through attending Greeley Central High School together. When they first came together, they wrote and played original music, but as people relocated to areas like Denver, or across the country to New Orleans, playing original music became tough. Writing and arranging original tunes requires rehearsal. And the truth was, “PPG” wasn’t as much about creating music as it was the theatrics of putting together a casual, fun and comedic show anyone could enjoy.
“We are all involved in our own creative projects outside [of Peter Paul & Gary], so it’s a fun way to be involved in a music performance without too much work. And the audience really responds to that,” said Bricker.
They toss around ideas from their favorite iconic 80’s and 90’s films until they settle on a concept. Then the challenge becomes orchestrating the music (and the idea behind it) in the most entertaining way possible.
In the past, they’ve combined “Careless Whisper” by Wham! and “Smooth Operator” by Sadé and created “Careless Operator.” Or the more elaborate “Playing Jump Around With The Boys,” which mashed-up songs by Kenny Loggins, Van Halen, The Pointer Sisters, and House of Pain.
When they performed the Top Gun soundtrack recently, they wore matching air force jumpsuits. When they played the Miami Vice soundtrack, they paired them with those colorful 80’s-style Don Johnson suits that have since been relegated to thrift stores.
It’s a fun process for the band, and they let the audience in on the joke. Pulling off a project like performing a soundtrack and planning costumes (especially something like air force jumpsuits) is still an undertaking, especially when it comes to coordinating through long distances and accommodating 10 different schedules.
Logistics need to be addressed, like who is singing lead on which songs, or how they’ll incorporate the second guitar part with only one guitarist. Still, thanks to modern technology, they can communicate the ideas, so cramming for the show with one long rehearsal that stretches into the early morning makes it work. Of course, they grew up with these soundtracks, so that helps too.
“What’s great is that everyone knows what the music is supposed to sound like,” said Bricker.
The music, in other words, basically plays itself, all testaments to the group’s high level of musical skill aside.
While the My Favorite Bands festival was originally birthed to fulfil a reunion for long-time friends, PPG now invite other bands across the Denver and Northern Colorado music scene to pay their tributes as well.
Every year brings new acts. Line-ups have included Denver’s own The Doors tribute group Save Our City, and Chitlin Dixon, a band comprised of University of Northern Colorado music faculty who performed Prince and Queen sets. This year, Trash Cat makes their debut, opening for Peter Paul & Gary with a Flight of the Conchords set.
Some bands allow themselves more creative freedom with their sets by adapting their favorite band to their unique instrumentation, like local Irish group The Stubby Shillelaghs playing Iron Maiden with a mandolin and fiddle.
From Creedence Clearwater Revival to No Doubt, there is music for everyone to enjoy at this reunion turned cover-song tradition. And hey you never know, your favorite band just might turn up.
My Favorite Bands goes down Friday, September 13 at The Moxi Theater in Greeley, featuring Peter, Paul & Gary performing The Back To The Future Soundtrack, Trash Cat performing Flight Of The Conchords and Matt Skinner Band performing Willie Nelson. 8pm start, tickets at moxitheater.com