Here at GO! Magazine, we often urge readers to go out to live music performances. This weekend, the live music will come to you.
The Tower Theatre’s Great Drive-Out, featuring long-running Bend dixieland group Summit Express Jazz Band, will roll out at 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The event will feature the six-piece band performing on a flatbed truck as it drives along a different route each day, making predetermined stops along the way.
While many venues, including the Tower, have begun hosting live events again, the Drive-Out allows folks to stay home -- or close to home -- and eliminates some of the risk of social gatherings during the ongoing pandemic.
“We do have events happening in our auditorium again, which is amazing and we’re so happy to be open again,” Jacelyn Davis, house manager at the Tower, said. “We do have limited capacity and we still are trying to think of creative ways to let our community know that we’re still here and we’re still thinking about them. We want to bring performing arts to people still -- that is our mission, after all, and we’re still trying to fulfill it. So this was just a part of that effort to stay in touch with our community a little bit.”
The Tower got the idea from a mobile music event put on in Eugene featuring a DJ, Davis said. The theater took the next step and hired a live band.
Summit Express has a history with the theater, having performed several times over the years for events such as Mardi Gras parties. It also has a history of playing in unusual situations, including “anywhere from weddings to wakes” and atop flatbed trucks, leader and banjoist Rick Havern said.
“We’ve played in parades before on flatbed trucks, and that’s kind of interesting with all the stopping and starting,” he said. “It jostles you a little bit, but nobody fell off, so that was good.”
The band, formed in 2009 by Havern, will also feature trombonist Matt Burton, tuba player Aaron Moore, trumpeter Rick Homer, clarinetist Micah Desmarais and drummer Dennis Semff. It will be the band’s first performances since the pandemic began.
“We’re a bigger band and we’re kind of a novelty band,” Havern said. “It’s not one that can go to a club typically. We’re more of a featured band type of thing. For Mardi Gras, we’re a great band, or for New Year’s parties or that sort of thing. We typically play at all of the Bend Elks ball games, the home games, but this whole season was shot, so we didn’t play at all. And a lot of times we’ll play at a bunch of the retirement homes around town for their special events. ... So there hasn’t been a lot of playing.”
The routes will each take between 60 and 90 minutes and cover roughly six miles, Davis said. Along with designated stops, the band will play in transit, and the truck could also stop in other areas if people are out, safety permitting.
“We’re not going to try to hold up traffic; we don’t want to cause congestion,” Davis said. “And another thing that we don’t really want to do is draw a large crowd of people in one spot because that’s not good COVID etiquette right now. But there is flexibility. If they were driving by a park and there’s a gathering of people on the lawn already, maybe we’ll stop and play if we hadn’t planned on stopping there.”
If this goes well, the Tower may organize other drive-outs in the future, weather permitting.
“We talked about the possibility, if it does go well, of redoing it in the spring with different routes or locations, maybe,” Davis said.
The Drive-Out will give Havern and his bandmates a chance to shake off the dust and get their chops back. The band began rehearsing again about two months ago. Havern also performs with Irish-inspired group Five Pint Mary, which is recording new material at Central Oregon Recording.
“I think it’ll be fun,” Havern said. “... It’s such a novel sound also. It’s one of those types of music that may not be your favorite type of music. But we’re gonna get your head bopping and finger-popping. We’ll get into the groove.”