Audiences often bring their own chairs to the Freeman Stage at Bayside, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be sitting when John Tesh takes the stage this Friday, July 20. While the coastal area is commonly known as the Quiet Resorts, Sussex County will be swinging this week to the brassy sounds of John Tesh: Big Band Live!, featuring a full 12-piece orchestra behind Tesh’s vocals and piano.
“What we really try to do is take people back to the 1930s, and we even tell stories about what was happening when ‘Blue Skies’ [by Irving Berlin] was popular, what was happing in World War II when ‘In the Mood’ [by Glenn Miller] was the No. 1 song, and what did that mean to people,” Tesh said.
The band plays everything from Frank Sinatra and Count Basie to Tesh’s original compositions.
“It was all the music we loved,” Tesh told the Coastal Point. “And we thought, ‘These songs are so timeless, why don’t we combine them with our own originals?’”
As a musician, Tesh is known for neo-classical, new age, contemporary jazz and sports theme music, such as “Roundball Rock,” which he revamped in the big-band style just for this tour.
“A lot of people think it’s just going to be [Tesh] with a piano,” said Freeman Stage representative Doug Phillips. “It’s a full band behind him. … It’s what we really liked about it. John Tesh is a diverse artist and musician in himself. He’s always changing things up.”
“The audience is varied. We’ll have a 65- to 70-year-old person, and then we’ll have grandkids,” said Tesh, adding that kids have a unique experience when they attend the shows because they are used to hearing pre-recorded music. “It’s songs that have a history through time,” he said of the set list for the shows, “and we talk about that. We don’t just show up and play 15 songs. We get the audience very involved and, depending on the night, you might have people dancing in the aisles.”
Audiences young and old can enjoy a big-band performance at Friday’s event while having personal experience with the musician and American songbook classics, such as “Summer Wind,” “I’ve Got the World on a String” and “Beyond the Sea” — which Tesh said is his personal favorite and now his young granddaughter’s, too.
Everything from dancing to marriage proposals has taken place on stage in the John Tesh: Big Band Live! tour. The band itself tends toward the goofy, Tesh noted, from choreographed dance moves to beatnik-style poems about the “Ed Sullivan Show.”
“We’re sort of the ADD orchestra. We’ll go in any direction the audience wants,” Tesh joked. “We’re ADD, and we’re co-dependent. … It’s a real give and take. We won’t leave until everyone is satisfied.”
After seeing his shows, Tesh noted, many people say they or their children are inspired to pick up a musical instrument.
“It’s like what Conan O’Brien said: ‘If the guy who can read the celebrity birthdays on ‘Entertainment Tonight’ is playing music, and millions of people are coming to see that, then we should all go get our banjos out of the closet, because anything can happen,’” Tesh quipped. “I’m sort of the poster-boy for ‘Quit your job and follow your dream.’”
Tesh is known as many things: a six-time Emmy-winning composer, Grammy nominee, gold-album-earning musician, that guy from “Entertainment Tonight,” author and host of the nationally syndicated radio show “Intelligence for Your Life.”
A self-proclaimed “band geek,” Tesh has been rocking the trumpet and piano since age 6, when he lived in Long Island, N.Y. Since then, he has starred in six music specials on public television, including the landmark 1994 “Live at Red Rocks.”
The booking of Tesh’s July 20 concert surprised people, Phillips said, because Tesh often plays at bigger venues in Wilmington or Vienna, Va., and Sussex County more often hosts country or pop music shows. This week, though, it will be big-band on the Freeman Stage, with the big-name appeal of John Tesh.
Tickets to the show cost $35, plus a handling fee, and may be purchased beforehand online at www.FreemanStage.org or in-person at the Freeman Stage box office. Any remaining tickets will be sold at the door Friday night.
Those attending should bring their own chairs to the outdoor concert, but because large crowds are expected, bulky items — such as coolers, tables and blankets — will not be permitted. People may not bring alcohol into the venue, but a selection of food and wine will be available onsite. Parking is free, and those attending should arrive an hour in advance for optimum seating and parking.
The Freeman Stage at Bayside, located 4 miles west of Fenwick Island, is sponsored by the nonprofit Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, whose goal is to present diverse, low-cost arts and entertainment in the community.