Re-52s keep the spirit of giving back flying high
As director of development for Persad, a human-services organization that serves Western Pennsylvania's LGBT community, Bob McGrogan actively seeks musicians to play at fundraisers and benefits.
The Re-52s, a B-52s tribute band, made McGrogan's job easier earlier this year by volunteering to play two events: Persad's Underwriter's Circle Cocktail Party and the Gay Pride Festival.
“I've approached bands, but no band has ever approached me before,” McGrogan says. “It was the first time I didn't have to beg people to do something for me.”
Those events were only the beginning. When the Re-52s play “One Night in Athens” on Sept. 14 at the Rex Theater, South Side, a portion of the proceeds from the show will be donated to Persad in honor of Ricky Wilson, the B-52s guitarist who died in 1985 of complications from AIDS.
Bassist Rod Schwartz and guitarist Steve Morrison, veterans of numerous Pittsburgh bands, including the Aviation Blondes, started kicking around the idea of a B-52s tribute band almost eight years ago. But recruiting the musicians was problematic until February of this year, when the duo found “the absolute perfect lineup,” Schwartz says. “And right from the beginning, we knew we wanted to do something with Persad.”
The “perfect lineup” includes Tim Pollock of The Spuds as Fred Schneider; Jen Fisher (Selena Catalina, Aviation Blondes) singing Kate Pierson's vocal parts; Holly Scott, an actress, as Cindy Wilson; Dave Klug (Aviation Blondes, The 11th Hour) on drums; Ben Dare on keyboards; plus Morrison and Schwartz.
But why the B-52s? According to Morrison, the group is “one of the great American bands and they've never gotten their due. ... I'm a big Ricky Wilson fan going back many years, and I loved the challenge of trying to figure out what the hell he was playing.”
While the musicians collectively are fans of the Athens, Ga., band, being able to support Persad gives the venture extra meaning.
“It's a connection with the community that I never had as a musician before,” Fisher says.
Pollock remembers being part of other tribute/charity shows Schwartz has put together and always envied the musicians who played “Rock Lobster,” “Private Idaho” or other B-52s songs.
“They had to be thinking they could have done a whole set of B-52s' songs,” Pollock says. “And now we get to do it. It's fun to do with a bunch of people I love being with, and it's for a great cause.”
The band hopes Saturday's show is the beginning of an ongoing partnership with Persad. A band website is slated to be launched that will link directly to Persad and solicit donations from B-52s fans across the country.
“There's been no other charity set up like this in the name of Ricky Wilson, to my knowledge,” Schwartz says. “We're not just looking for people from Pittsburgh. We're looking for people who care about the causes that Persad promotes and care about the B-52s and Ricky Wilson. ... If we can find 300 people who will give $5 a month, we can start underwriting every event that Persad does.”
Saturday's show also features The Reckoning, a REM tribute band.
Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.