“The Sixties Show” founder and musical director Craig O’Keefe experienced the 1960s as a kindergartner, unaware then of the impactful decade rife with raucous, beautiful music, out-there fashions, tragic civil rights incidents but significant gains, environmental awareness, numbing assassinations, peace demonstrations and space exploration.
But the era resonated later on.
“For whatever reason, I have a very deep interest of all things in the ‘60s,” he explained. “So if we’re doing a song in a particular year, I’ve looked into what was happening and how it relates to the song. It can be a television show or an old commercial, or it may be peace rallies.” Video, old newspaper and advertising clips are projected on a screen as band members play in a riveting multimedia presentation. The band will blast out their masters of the universe musicianship on Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. at Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, a kind of triumphant return for them; they played at PTPA last May.
O’Keefe, a Los Angeles transplant, is an accomplished musician on bass, vocals, guitar and keyboard. (Interestingly, he was drawn to punk rock in the 1980s and began playing at age 15. He is self-taught.) His significant chops includes playing in various bands, scoring record deals with Warner Bros., BMG Records and others, composing music for film, TV and commercials. He missed playing with other musicians when he moved to Ridgefield, Conn., so in 2015, after three years of auditioning about 300 musicians — a number that was honed down to 25 and now to their current seven — “The Sixties Show” took their expertise and dedication to the songs of the era — even down to the vintage gear that was used — on the road.
Their first gig was in a bar. There were three patrons.
Luckily, that listening dearth changed after a year. Bigger venues started to open up.
What people heard, then reacted to and spread the word about, were the meticulous sounds and professional experience the band accrued over the years. “They are A-plus musicians who tour with other bands,” O’Keefe explained.
The band members who play on stage along with O’Keefe are Tom Licameli (guitar, vocals); Jim Boggia (guitar, vocals); Chris Parker (drums); Dennis Diken, founding member of The Smithereens (drums); John Cardone (bass, backing vocals) and Peter Chiusano (keyboard, orchestrations). The men have toured with The Beach Boys, The Violent Femmes, John Fogarty, Aimee Mann, Juliana Hatfield, Tracy Bonham, Bernadette Peters, Elvis Costello, Frank Sinatra, Stan Getz, Lionel Hampton, Chick Corea, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Boz Skaggs, Eric Clapton. And that’s just a small sample.
“I found great musicians during the auditions but I wanted those who loved the sensibilities and the aesthetics of the ‘60s,” O’Keefe explained. “The show is about producing the best sounds just as they were on the record. What preempts the compressors? Who were the engineers? So it sounds like the original. Plus, the musicians are all good, down-to-earth people.” Besides the archival footage and sounds, there’s a light show.
O’Keefe said the setup takes about four to five hours fine-tuning the video feed, lights and music. But it’s worth it.
“The ‘60s really resonates with people. There’s an emotional reaction and we draw these kindred spirits into it,” he said.
The show is kept fresh. The playlist will change a bit along with the clips and also the stories. Besides the music, the audience may learn a thing or two about an event, or just a personal moment involving one of the musicians.
“It’s quick narration,” O’Keefe explained, “because people want to hear the music. But in one set, one of the guys remembers hearing a song played at 4 a.m. when he crept downstairs in his pajamas during his parents’ dinner party. Or we’ll talk about what inspired a particular song. Another thing — we dress in ‘60s costume. It’s Carnaby Street suits or other fashions of the times. We’re not in character, we don’t wear wigs or do accents, but it’s to recreate a show from the ‘60s.”
So what will the audience hear?
“You’ll hear B-sides, deep album cuts and songs from the early British invasion to late-‘60s orchestrated music, a Del Shannon song, a Moody Blues from the late ‘60s, a Nilsson song like “Everybody’s Talking,” a gentle acoustic from Simon and Garfunkel, music from The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones,” O’Keefe said. “People tell us, ‘I never heard anybody do that before,’ the way we play the songs. The ‘60s was an era of turmoil, but it was also an era of spirit and the greater good and hope. When you look at it in retrospect, it was magical.”