Did the turbulent, traumatic 1960s really last only 10 years?
Kennedy’s Camelot, space exploration and conquest, civil rights, Vietnam, three political assassinations, free love, the awakening of the drug culture, protests on campuses and in city streets – was that all really crammed into one decade?
And can it all be crammed now into less than three hours?
Jim and Greg Duffy think so, and they should know. The father-son team in Fort Mill has distilled history for a living for years, producing and directing and designing documentaries for the likes of the Travel Channel or Armed Forces Network.
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“This is the ’60s” gets its world premiere Friday at Ovens Auditorium. This fall, the multi-media look at the grittiest and grooviest of eras will go on a seven-week tour of America that’s still adding dates.
The two men behind it have fallen in love with the ’60s, one by experience and one by proxy. Father Jim, a former drummer-guitarist, joined his first band in 1967, when he was in middle school. Son Greg, who was born in 1985, has immersed himself in the earlier era’s movies, music and TVs.
Both are Beatlemaniacs, equally likely to remind you that “Norwegian Wood” was the first song to use a conventional Eastern sitar as a lead instrument. Both are trivia fans, ready to note that King Solomon (yes, the Old Testament monarch) supplied the oldest lyrics ever used in a No. 1 pop hit: The Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (which came mostly from the Book of Ecclesiastes.).
Their skills and passions are united in “This is the ’60s,” which was brewing before they left Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for this area in 2010. Jim searched for musicians and led the way in compiling a song list and structure; Greg located or designed the graphic content for four screens to play simultaneously or in pieces, from projections of 1960s newsreel footage to original animation in the “Yellow Submarine” style.
The show covers five eras in 33 songs and a final medley: the Early Years, British Invasion, America Fights Back, Psychedelia and Woodstock Nation.
It begins with the peppy pop of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” and the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” and ends with Led Zeppelin’s heavy “Good Times, Bad Times” and the Fifth Dimension hippie hymn, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.”
“The female vocalist came first,” says Jim. “We knew (Jefferson Airplane’s) ‘White Rabbit’ would be one of the songs. So I watched a bunch of bad versions on YouTube, until I came across Joan Burton. She was doing amazing ’60s stuff, including Janis Joplin, and her base was a Myrtle Beach club. We piled down in a car to hear her, and we were blown away.”
A friend selling high-end audio supplies suggested keyboard player David Krol – who then asked if the Duffys would like to import his entire band. (They would.) That ensemble had been playing ‘70s arena rock tributes as Smokin’ but soon adapted to the ’60s styles.
Choreographer Dawn Rickus brought in dancer-singers, and the stage lineup was set. Now Greg added the visuals.
For “Whiter Shade of Pale,” he conjured the feel of stained glass on panels. (Aptly so, as its organ solo comes from a J.S. Bach church chorale.) In “Abraham, Martin and John,” you’ll see photos or footage of the slain leaders and hear the words of Martin Luther King Jr. during the instrumental break.
The show will immerse older viewers in nostalgia but offer a voyage of discovery for other generations. The band will speak briefly about songs; trivia factoids will be screened before the show and at intermission, while you enter to the sound of 1960s TV themes.
About now, you may be thinking that this concept is indefinitely extendable. Why not a “This is the ’70s?” (Smokin’ already knows all the Boston and Eagles songs.) Or “This is the ’80s?” Or “This is Hip-Hop” or “This is Christmas” or “This is Halloween”? (Think of the horror films to be projected!)
Lyric Media, the Duffys’ company, has begun to get rolling on various ideas, especially the ones themed to decades.
“Think of these shows as yearbooks,” says Jim. “If you look at yearbooks from 1965 and 1975 and 1985, they’re the same thickness. One period may have less (significant) history, but they all have important pop culture references. That’s what we can explore.”