Day By The River: A Family Reunites
In my mind I keep mulling over the question, "What will it be like to step back in time?" I had known of the reunion from when it was but a whisper among the band members, as if it were some amazing secret the world just wasn't ready to discover. Indeed the idea at first was almost a shock, I found myself dealing with some emotions that I had long ago come to terms with and put in the appropriate place in my mind. There was much here I really wasn't certain I wanted to revisit. This band, this wonderful collaboration of musicians and the beautiful fans who became a second family to me. The memories of the absolute joy spent with a woman, whom I had thought my soul mate, at so many of the shows and gatherings. The tragic accident that took the life of our good friend sound engineer Lee Laurence. And that special music that so moved me the first time I heard it that I became swept away by the flowing current of aural delight that was
Day By the River (DBR).
I first became aware of DBR on a sunny fall day in Gainesville Florida in 1994, a place that would become one of the band's most popular touring stops. It was a festive day, there was quality music happening all over town. First was a free show at the University of Florida Bandshell, and overlapping that was another top flight double bill playing at the Covered Dish downtown. One of those special days when there was an overabundance of music to enjoy.
The free show started in the afternoon, but ran late. This resulted in my missing the first opportunity to see this new band, Day By The River, who were opening for the Aquarium Rescue Unit that evening. But as luck would have it, one of my friends who made it in time to hear this group, bought their CD Shimmy, and later when we were at their house, had it playing. With each song I found myself more and more focused on the music, as if it were taking me on a journey, a wonderful and invigorating adventure through rolling country side covered with beautiful spring flowers and majestic mountains in the distance.
I was so moved by the music on this CD that I wrote the band a letter the next day to find out more about them, and when next I had the chance to see them, offered my services to get them on the Internet. The rest as they say, was history. I was offered "door charge for life" in return
for my becoming a part of the organization.
Do you dream in your bed
Of what's to come and where to go
I think its all been said
In times forgotten long ago (lyric from the song “Peeking Thru the Blinds”)
Soon the challenge of exposing as many people as possible to the music of Day By The River became a driving force in my life. As I look back on it, I find myself with a glimmer of understanding of what it means to be a parent, the desire to see someone other than yourself succeed and the willingness to do whatever possible to make that happen for them. So when this amazing chapter of my life was closed, after the tragic accident and the decision to bring the story of Day By The River to an end, it was a life changing event for myself. This was a time that required much soul searching, and decisions to made that previously were not even on the radar. But mostly it meant taking a long look inward to decide what truly is important in life.
Now here it is, almost three years later, and an event that was never supposed to happen is about to happen. But as keyboard player Walt Austin put it, " I guess that personally, I started missing friends that were really close to me some of those friends were people, and some of them were songs." Many of us had assumed that it was only the fans that wanted to see the it all happen again, but the members of DBR missed the sense of community and family that we all shared as well, and as one of the band members replied when asked what was the main motivation for the reunion, "For me it's to be with the DBR family."
At first I found myself filled with uncertainty about all the emotions that would be re-visited at such a reunion, but as it gets closer I find myself more and more looking forward to an amazing gathering of friends, family, and of course music. I know now this will be an experience that will be cherished and in fact is a much more positive way to end that particular chapter of my life, to have all of us together again to share happiness and love that we all have for each other and the pure experience that is Day By The River. Indeed among the DBR fans and band members, this is being referred to as the "DBR Family Reunion," a reflection of the sense of community all shared.
There may be many of you reading this who are not really familiar with Day By The River, and I don't know if this will inspire you to seek out some of the many live shows that were recorded between 1994 and 1999, but you might notice you find yourself feeling curious, feeling adventurous enough to want a taste of a group that was described as "a new High Sierra favorite" at their debut there in the summer of 1999. As a good friend of mine, Bryan Adeline once wrote "DBR creates a sound that is by turns ferociously funky and deeply jazzy. They seem to have found that elusive space where the primal beat of rock lives comfortably in the complex rhythmic world of jazz." Add to that elements of bluegrass, Latin grooves, and southern deep fried soul, and you might just begin to get a hint of the depth and beauty of the musical odyssey that was the Day By The River experience.
When the bus comes for me
I ain't gonna be on board this time
I don't want to go to school ( lyric from the song “Bus”)
What started as a hobby for singer Ted Lahey and bassist Patrick McDonnell in 1989 transformed into a full-blown musical phenomenon when the two joined forces with old schoolmates Walt Austin on keyboards and Dave Brockway on drums in 1992 at the University of Miami. Named for the lazy afternoons spent skipping school together in their home town of Athens Georgia, Day By The River were unique in that four of the members had known each since childhood. The spirit of friendship and family they shared was an essential part of the DBR community, and even a newbie fan was accepted into the fold and could feel an instantaneous connection with the band, the music, and the other fans.
DBR had two different lead guitarists through those years, starting with Buck Pryor who left the group in 1995, and later that year Jason Rabineau brought his talents to the mix. There was a short time during 1995 when Jimmy Herring ( Jazz is Dead, Phil & Friends ) sat in on lead guitar
while the search that eventually landed Jason took place. Starting in 1996 their rise to prominence in the South began with slots at the annual Harvest Festival in Gainesville, Playing at Sunfest in West Palm Beach, and the 1997 H.O.R.D.E. Southern Tour. They became regulars on Atlanta Radio playing live on the Dunhams’ famous "From the Living Room" show on Z93 FM, and being the featured band on 96 Rock's Sunday Evening show.
Wake up…There's living to be done
You've got mountains to climb
You won't face a single one alone (lyric from the song “Mountain”)
Soon DBR found themselves touring from Key West to Maine and New Orleans to St. Louis, with an ever growing fan base, and the now favorite sunshine over water stickers popping up in green rooms and on the bumpers of cars all over east of the Mississippi. They were featured with such
musical luminaries as George Clinton and P-Funk, Merl Saunders, Gov’t Mule, Zen Tricksters, and good friends The String Cheese Incident. Fans were on occasion treated to guests on stage such as Jeff Coffin (Bela Fleck & The Flecktones ), Michael Kang (String Cheese Incident), and Jeff Sipe (ARU, Leftover Salmon).
The band was always full of musical surprises, with a cover repertoire so musically diverse that on any given night you might hear their own unique renditions of Frank Zappa, Steely Dan, Bob Marley, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, Tower of Power, Talking Heads, Grateful Dead, XTC, and Stevie Wonder. And often heard teases in the middle of extended jams would come from the likes of Herbie Hancock, Allman Brothers, Pat Metheny, MMW, James Brown, and Miles Davis. Add this to their own extensive list of original music that encompassed the gamut of human emotion expressed with a diverse musical style. And just to make things even more fun, the guys would spice up the live shows with a vocal beat box jam, playing the Star Spangled Banner on horns , and dressing up as Star Wars characters for Halloween. With that combination of serious musicianship, a passion for life, and a desire to have as much fun as possible, a wondrous recipe for a good time results from the fusion of those energies.
Don't you know I feel like
telling you something you thought
you never would hear in the nude (lyric from the song “Naked”)
And then there is the now infamous original tune "Naked"... an up tempo crowd favorite. The song is not anything that would even make your granny blush, but the lead singer Ted, had this part of the song where he had the band play a quiet playful groove as he would proceed to spin stories to the crowd. And these were wonderful stories, I don't know if he made them up on the spot, but they would always be different, often incorporating some recent event of the day. And these stories would all eventually have a theme to them, and that theme was that the song was about hanging out naked, so people in the audience should get naked in the spirit of the song.
Audiences were a little slow to catch on, but it wasn't long before they started to participate. First it was a few guys taking off their shirts, then came the famous trouser dropping incident on stage at the Georgia Theatre. Before long the ladies started dancing in their bras, then the bras went flying onto the stage, and soon there was full frontal nudity facing the band. Articles were written about the whole naked thing, and band publicity shots featured them naked with just a sign covering the naughty bits. And for those of you wondering, there are no secret web sites with nude photos from the shows.
The year leading up to the millennium was to be a wild ride for Day By The River and all of us associated with them. Starting the year as the featured band at the Z93 FM's annual Atlanta New Years Eve event. The first three months of 1999 the band was touring hard all over the southeast USA and began to make regular jaunts to Kansas and Illinois. April saw a triumphant return to the Northeast, playing to delighted crowds in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. With each show the improvisation got better and better, to the point where some sets were one long continuous flow of music weaving in and out of songs much to the amazement of even the most diehard of their fans who would be exhausted from dancing nonstop for an entire set.
Five musicians playing as if they all were members of a collective, each knowing what the others were going to do and what direction to move the music next. More and more tapers were digitally documenting each show, which is good since there really is no way with language to describe what was happening when they stepped on stage locked, loaded, and ready to explode and expand the consciousness of anyone within earshot. Word was spreading as copies of the shows spread across the USA and even overseas to England, Europe, and Japan.
River running in the summer's heat
while the radio keeps playin' out
some old island beat (lyric from the song “River Road”)
Summer of 1999 arrived and Day by The River was on fire. Headlining one of the biggest shows in the Southeast, the annual Jerry Jam memorial show, and being featured on TV and radio stations all across the south. Then it was off for the much anticipated first coast to coast tour for Day By The River, where one of the high points was to be their High Sierra Music Festival debut, a featured spot on the showcase stage.
Reports were coming in from the first stops, that each night the energy would be double the previous night, new dimensions were being created and destroyed in the space between the notes. Those attempting to review the performances online just couldn't seem to find words in the English language to capture the feelings and emotions they had just experienced, but they knew it was something special. The anticipation building toward HSMF was at times unbearable and yet it felt so good to know that something absolutely amazing was about to happen. And after it happened our expectations were surpassed, I had never seen merchandise sell so fast as everyone there wanted a shirt or a CD to take home with them. High Sierra was buzzing about Day By The River, and the buzz followed them for the rest of the western tour. It was as if their time had finally come, they had arrived on the national scene as a band not to be missed.
The fall was coming and DBR was off for another east coast tour, and was to then come back to headline the annual Halloween extravaganza in Atlanta. But then tragedy struck. After an evening performance at the Berkshire Festival, they were on their way to Boston on a drizzly night. Their van slipped on a wet road and went off a poorly marked curve into a telephone pole. Lee Laurence the sound engineer was killed instantly as he slept in the back. After Lee's funeral in Augusta and long deliberations the band decided this was to be the end of Day By The River.
Don't know if I'll ever find the time
to do both what I need and
what I'd like to do
While the flame still burns inside me
if I just keep on moving
I'll get through (lyric from the song “Japanese Motel”)
And so it goes now, time like the rivers water flows on, and we have all gone on our separate paths. At first it would seem this a sad way to end this story, but we all have loved, learned, and taken with us each something special from that period of time. I can not speak for everyone, but I am sure they would agree that all our lives have been enriched by the experiences we had. This is what the members of Day By The River are currently doing
Ted Lahey (lead singer/guitar) is soon to graduate from culinary school in North Carolina, played with the Park Bench Blues Band for awhile, and has been known to pop up on stage with bands passing through Asheville and Charlotte.
Patrick McDonnell (bass) is living in Denver Colorado, works for the entertainment newspaper Westworld and plays in a trio called Swamp Music.
Dave Brockway (drums) is living in Athens Georgia, working and playing with Lions of Zion as well as sitting in on some regular jam nights at the local clubs.
Walt Austin (keyboards) when not working as a multi media engineer in Atlanta Georgia, or sitting in with many touring acts, can be found playing in a smokin', high energy Grateful Dead Tribute band called Cosmic Charlie, and he has formed an instrumental trio called Presto Variety Hour.
Jason Rabineau (lead guitar) was living in Boulder Colorado minding his own business, when his body was taken over by a posse of alien robots who can't seem to figure out if they are alien robots or just aliens. They use his body to create pleasing vibrations in reverence to the supafine sea goddess "Shanaqua" on the planet Aquatari. More on this story of epic proportions at sonarwavelab.com. He had also been spotted on stage with Chupacabra before the abduction took place.
Reis Barron (manager) lives in Boulder Colorado and now works for the String Cheese organization at Madison House, and is as hard as ever to get on the phone.
Andy Abramson (road manager) lives in Salisbury North Carolina, works to preserve big chunks of the environment there, and is glad he learned to live without sleep on the road as he and his wife Meredith just had a baby girl.
Lee Laurence (sound engineer) is mixing sound for an all star band in heaven. He is also the guardian angel for those of us he left behind. It feels good to know he is there.
As we run down to the sea
we run down with the beach
and blue sky in front of me
Fly… spread your wings ( lyric from the song “Fly”)
It was a great run. A part of my life I will never forget. The Tape Tracker database file says 491 total shows, and I am filled with joy at the prospect of seeing that number increment by 2 in just over a month from now. What a wonderful way to end the story of Day By The River. But in reality, it will never really end, the music lives on as does the spirit of what it means to take the time to enjoy life, skip your daily routine with someone special and make music on a sunny day by a beautiful river.