News Column

McGuigan returns to area with 'Rock Legends'

October 4, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 04--The name Billy McGuigan is one that's well known in this part of the state.

McGuigan studied theater at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Mo., before creating the Buddy Holly tribute show "Rave On!" (which he performed at the Missouri Theater here in St. Joseph and the State Theater in Mound City, Mo.). From there, he crafted "Yesterday and Today," a unique tribute show to The Beatles dictated entirely by audience requests (he brought this show to Missouri Western's Potter Hall Theater as well as the Ron Houston Center for the Performing Arts at Northwest).

At every gig, the singer/guitarist and his backing band have earned unanimous acclaim from music critics and rave reviews from audience members. There was only one problem, McGuigan explains.

"We would go to places -- they would bring 'Rave On!' in, and they'd ask, 'What else do you do?' Well, we have The Beatles show. And then we'd bring that in and they'd ask, 'What else do you do?' So, we kind of created this new show out of necessity," McGuigan says.

That new show, called "Rock Legends," will be presented at Mound City's State Theater at 3 p.m. Oct. 13, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the State Theater Arts Council.

Although "Rock Legends" was born from a creative need, it quickly has become McGuigan's favorite production.

"It's an awful sports analogy, but with 'Rave On!,' it's always fastballs -- here's 'That'll Be the Day,' here's 'Peggy Sue.' With 'Yesterday and Today,' it's a lot of curveballs, like 'I Am the Walrus' and 'She Loves You.' This is a change-up," McGuigan explains. "It's what we like about both of those shows, but we're not tied to that one artist."

This unique revue gives audiences the opportunity to vote for songs from their favorite rock legends. Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Janis Joplin, The Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, The Doors and Fleetwood Mac are just some of the artists who are fair game on the ballots. As McGuigan explains, the ballot exists as an "either/or checklist" that allows the band to take the temperature of the audience and craft the proper set.

"If people are consistently choosing the '50s artists, we know we're going in that direction," he says. "If they're stretching their legs a little bit more and they want something from the '70s and '80s, we can go that route."

McGuigan says that tunes by "The King" have been the most popular choice so far. He and the band rather enjoy playing Elvis classics like "Devil in Disguise" as well as a '70s blues rock rendition of "Heartbreak Hotel." Billy Joel usually is the runner-up, but McGuigan says the band chooses not to play the most common hits.

"We really try to dig in past the obvious ones," he explains. "For Billy Joel, we're not going to play 'Piano Man.' If you want to go and hear 'Piano Man' by a band, you can go into any bar. We want to play the ones that will make the audience think, 'Aw, I love that. I wasn't expecting to hear that.' ... That's what I really should've called the show: 'Not the Obvious Choice.'"

He's holding out hope that the folks in Mound City give the band a chance to spread its wings -- its Mick Jagger dancing rooster wings.

"The Rolling Stones never get picked," he laughs, "which is a bummer because we really love the Stones."

For those thinking this might be another tacky tribute show, McGuigan would like to quell those worries. He and the band don't don cheesy wigs or knock-off costumes during "Rock Legends," and he doesn't simply try to imitate these great artists. He makes each song on his own, while merely tipping the cap to Jagger's strut, Petty's slow drawl or the operatics of Roy Orbison.

"I'll always suggest that artist, but it'll always be me," he says.

Admission to the concert is $25 at the door and only $10 for kindergarten through 12th-grade students. For more information about Billy McGuigan or the production, visit www.billymcguigan.com.

Shea Conner can be reached at shea.conner@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @stjoelivedotcom.

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