Steve Hodges, the Musical Director for Southern Shakespeare, and I had half a million meetings to find just the right music for our 60s rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And it’s been a nostalgic labor of love, as both of us are “young” enough to have this music imprinted into our brains at an impressionable age. Steve hid a transistor radio purchased by his stepfather in Hong Kong under his pillow throughout the long nights of 1967 small-town Texas, and I purchased my first album, The Byrds’ Mr. Tambourine Man, at a record store near Berkeley, California in the summer of ‘65. It’s funny how memories of when you first heard I Can’t Get No Satisfaction come rolling back into your mind, along with the air guitar and the fist microphone.
But matching tunes with the characters of Midsummer is a daunting task, given that it’s, well, Shakespeare. And while negotiating the labyrinth of music rights and royalties in the 21st century, we had to pick songs to enhance the action of the play before knowing who was cast. What if an actress wants to be accompanied by Joan Baez, while we were thinking of her as more Aretha Franklin? Maybe Puck would be a Black Sabbath fan, not the Lovin’ Spoonful groupie we envisioned. We could be lost in the AM world when the rest of the company was tuned into the alternative FM stations.
Fortunately, the band assembled for Midsummer, known as The Grateful Bard, is a collection of musicians with eclectic and diverse talents, not the least of which is Improvisation. When they play a cover of a song, you will recognize it in the first four bars, but with a Tallahassee twist (apologies to Chubby Checkers).
Evan Powell, on keyboard, cracked his knuckles under the tutelage of jazz greats Bill Peterson and Marcus Roberts. Aaron Kinman, on bass, is a young man with a long list of gigs all over the Southeast. Adam Hendley, on drums, does percussion for his own Urban Soul while still keeping the beat for the Bill Peterson Trio. And Steve Hodges, their fearless leader on guitar, brings decades of listening to all kinds of crazy things, wasting his childhood watching classic TV shows, and playing a motley collection of styles on anything with strings. They all have “big ears” and are comfortable mixing it up, stirring it vigorously, and blowing it all out.
Incidentally, it isn’t just popular music the band will be tapping into. There are a whole host of auditory cultural icons we might use. Even if these tunes are now considered classics to the Millennials, can you sing the theme song from Gilligan’s Island? Looney Tunes? The Three Stooges? Are there sound effects from TV or the movies of the era that we all somehow recognize, even if we don’t know where from? Steve and the Grateful Bard may surprise you with a few of those gems too.
Who knew Shakespeare could be this much fun?