When we first began planning our New England visit, sometime late last year, I had the idea to put together a special reunion show, one at which we could reconnect with our dearest friends and musician buddies from days gone past. My initial thought was to throw together a band of players from my New England nightclub days, have a few guests sit in, and that a few of our old friends might turn up too. To my delight, all that happened, and then some.
Sometime around February I began putting this all together. The first thing I had to do was pick a place. Hmmm, early August in New England? What better place to do this sort of thing than Hampton Beach! And why not pick a venue in which I used to perform regularly back in my New England heyday, Wally’s Pub, which turned out turned to be the perfect spot. I would need a core band of players, so I contacted drummer, John Medeiros; and bassist, Keith Foley; both whom I once played with in my old band, Electric Blue. I wanted to have another guitar player involved as well, so I called up my friend, and former guitar student, Charles Cormier, who was a junior in high school when I left New England. Charles now plays with the seacoast jam band “Superfrog” from which I also recruited percussionist, Adams Viciguerra.
Once I had the place and the players, it was time to invite some special guests, and I began putting out some feelers months in advance. Putting together a reunion show from afar takes a lot of work, and I spent a lot of time e-mailing, talking on the phone, and sending mp3’s across cyberspace. It was all well worth the effort. On a warm Sunday afternoon a few days before the show, we had one rehearsal with the core band and, thanks to everyone doing their homework, things came together pretty quickly.
So Wednesday finally arrived, and the band guys arrived around 5:00 PM to set up and sound check. Our five piece ensemble was joined by, Jeff Bissonnette, a sound engineer that I knew from the “Jet City era”. We got everything dialed in and then our friends and guests began to trickle in. I hired a local videographer, Mike Maleszyk, to document the evening and he showed up about an hour before the show with one of his cohorts and three video cameras. A lot of friends that Kelly and I hadn’t seen in ages started arriving and I did my best to make some rounds before showtime. Some of these friends I hadn’t even seen since high school, some 25 years ago. There were so many people I wanted to talk to but so little time.
Eight o’clock came around and it was time to get down and boogie. “The Eric Normand and Friends Band” felt good right off the bat and I was excited about the vibe we were putting forth. Despite the fact that I hadn’t played with any of these guys in a decade, and most of the players had never played together before, the group had a real synergy and maturity, almost as if we had been playing together for years. We played an hour-long set of my favorite tunes, blues-rock music born of another era. Songs by Freddy King, Delbert McClinton, Jimi Hendrix, and the Allman Brothers, got a good dance floor going by mid-set. A couple of high points came during our rendition of the classic “Sweet Melissa” and an extended version of “Little Wing”, the former turning out to be a particularly proud moment for me when Charles took a beautiful and emotive solo. This all crescendoed with the set’s climax of “Black Magic Woman”, complete with full blown Santana-style percussion and an extended outro jam that nobody wanted to end.
We took a break and I made a few rounds, trying to catch up with as many of my friends and musician buddies as I could. I didn’t get to talk to everybody (not for lack of trying) and I wish I could have had more time. It was time to kick off the second half of the night, and this began with a couple of songs with the core band plus friend and former Electric Blue member, Tom Martin sitting in on bass. Next would come a “Jupiter’s Ghost” reunion, and this was comprised of Doug Hinton on drums, Mark Gagnon on bass, Keith Bowen on vocals, and me on guitar. We played two songs in what felt like a literal time machine, a packed dance floor from the get-go. Keith stepped down and Brandon LePere joined us on vocals for the next onslaught. Once again it was “Sherman set the way-back machine”, and when I looked across the stage it felt like 1995 again. Once upon a time a lifetime ago, four guys had a little rock band called “Shockwave”, and we played, and played, and played. We went through a lot together, and many great memories and feelings came rushing back during this part of the night.
Next it was time for one last reunion grouping and the crowd heard the announcement “Will Stan Jackson and George Bisson please come to the stage”. Yes, that’s right a partial “Jet City” reunion was about to unfold. A little “Alice in Chains” followed by some “Bad Company” kept the dance floor hopping. Sadly, the night was drawing to a close, and I had the core band return for one final number, “Whipping Post”.
Have you ever experienced a moment in time that was so full of positive energy and wonderment that you hoped it would never end? An experience so pure and magical that you wish you could just live inside of that moment for eternity? For me, and maybe a few others on this particular night, this was one such moment. Life is whizzing by, and the perception of time seems to be changing, literally speeding up exponentially. This fact has recently clarified some things for me. Friends and family are of the best things in life, and to me, friends are family. The times we spend together make us who we are, and on this trip, reconnecting with the friends of our past was a powerful experience. So many people made this special night happen. People drove from as far away as Brattleboro, Vermont and Portland, Maine; Stan Jackson drove all the way up from Cape Cod to participate in this night. Thanks everybody for making it all come together!
The night did have to end, but the memories we made will last a lifetime. And besides, I don’t see any reason we can’t make this an annual event. Meanwhile, Kelly and I have adopted a new theme song, one from which I would like to appropriately quote for the end of this writing –
“Meanwhile I, ain’t wastin’ time no more,
Cause time goes by like hurricanes, and much faster things,
Don’t forget the pouring rain.”
I would like to send out a special thanks to Mike Maleszyk, Catherine Fraser-Dery, Athena Erickson, and Curt Comeau for the use of these photos.
It’s now Saturday morning and we’re in Waukegan, Illinois, just north of Chicago, and back on the Rhett Akins tour. It’s early, I’m the only one up, and the view out the bus window is not unlike many I’ve seen before – a hotel, a highway, and some retail. Several Canadian geese are foraging for their breakfast on a big plane of grass in front of the hotel. I can’t believe that this trip is almost over; it went by at warp speed!
We had been planning our trip to New England since last fall, with my 25th high school reunion tugging at me to return to my homeland for a brief visit. And even though it ended up turning into a working vacation, with several workshops and book signings taking up much of our time, it ended up being one of the most soul-enriching vacations Kelly and I have ever had. It had been seven years since our last trip home, way too long, and although we had often talked about how much we missed everybody, we didn’t realize just how much until we got there.
We set out Monday morning and did the 1240 mile drive over two days, sleeping overnight in a hotel in Pennsylvania. Although the trip was long, our excitement grew as we neared the northeastern states. We spent the first few days of our New England visit in southern Maine, first at Kelly’s sister’s house in Kennebunk, and then at one of our friends homes in Portland. Crammed into the middle of a couple of hectic days centered around music store clinics and a local TV interview, were family reunions, a breakfast with friends, and a wonderful walk on Kennebunk beach on a warm summer day. Some friends hosted a special jam night for me in Dover, NH and it was great to reconnect with old friends there as well.
By the time the weekend rolled around it was time for my high school reunion. It was great to see so many of my old classmates – I can’t believe it’s been 25 years; ‘Father Time’ is so mean! After the reunion we stopped In to Wally’s on Hampton Beach, a club I had played frequently in the late 90s and the place we would be having our reunion show a couple of days later. Living in Tennessee we are a bit landlocked, and we basked in the salty night air of the ocean-side resort town, something we likely took for granted just a few years ago.
Sunday afternoon would bring another reunion of sorts, this one in the form of a rehearsal in my hometown of Kingston, NH with some old band mates. Members of my old band, Electric Blue, plus one of my former guitar students and one of his friends would comprise the core band for the Wally’s reunion show. We rehearsed in a garage belonging to one of my oldest friends, a place in which I used to rehearse with many of my first bands many years ago. The rehearsal went great and was followed by another family reunion, this one at my parent’s house, the place where I grew up right down the street.
On this night I slept in my old bedroom, it kind of made me feel like a kid again. I woke up real early Monday morning and just lied in bed for a while, reflecting on the amazing journey I have had in the years since I left this place. It was 6 AM, just before sunrise, and the house was quiet, my folks still asleep, and I’m not sure why, but I suddenly had the urge to set out on foot and visit the places of my youth.
I walked out the front door, around the side of our barn, and cut through the neighbor’s yard. I walked past the old cemetery and out onto Main Street, following the beautiful plains past the bandstand, the town hall, the general store, and the library. I came to my old high school “Sanborn Regional”, and just stood there for a moment, transfixed by the memories that came flooding back. I walked through the school grounds, and experienced several moments of déjà vu, remembering different pinpoints in time from decades ago. Coming out of the backside of the high school, I walked down to Greenwood Lake, a place where I used to go fishing as a boy, and parking as a teenager. I walked another mile or so down to Kingston State Park and sat on the shore for a few before visiting the place where Kelly and I got married – a beautiful little spot on the shore of Kingston Lake on the backside of the park. I walked up the trail that comes up behind Clark’s Oil and received a few mosquito bites along the way. Back out onto Main Street, I walked past the old Sadowski residence, the place where the sounds of Jimi Hendrix blaring out a bedroom window on a warm summer day long ago inspired me to take up the electric guitar.
After spending a great day with my family I was off to Hampton for another clinic, after which I went to bed early, exhausted as the pace of this trip was starting to catch up with me. We took it easy on Tuesday, trying to have a few still moments to catch our breath at a friend’s house in Hampton. The trip had been great so far, seeing so many friends and family members in such a short period of time, but our heads were literally spinning as a result of the hectic schedule we were keeping. Wednesday morning we managed to squeak in one more walk on a beautiful private beach just north of Hampton Beach, reminiscing about the trip.
We had one last thing to do before this exciting trip would come to an end, and that was the reunion show at Wally’s. This night turned out to be such an exciting, action-packed adventure in and of itself that it deserves its own story, one that I’ll post a little later. But as far as this brief nine-day stay, it was truly awesome! Kelly and I have relished every moment of our Nashville journey, we wouldn’t be who we are today if we had not embarked on it. We have met and become friends with many wonderful people in middle Tennessee, and other parts of the country as well. But reconnecting with our friends and family in New England was an emotional and powerful experience; you all have a special place in our hearts and we miss you already. See y’all next year!