MUSIC- FRIDAY'S UPDATE- Elected band: Inaugural Ball players play here

Despite traveling to various exotic locations and performing with lauded and talented musicians, there's nothing like playing a hometown gig for Big Ray and the Kool Kats. 

"It's nice to be back. We've played Fridays After Five for ten years in a row," says trumpeter and band leader Ray Caddell. "We've played lots of fancy places, but Fridays is always a nice, energetic crowd."

"Fancy places" may be a bit of an understatement for this 12-piece band. Lauded as the best wedding band in America by Modern Bride magazine for the fifth year in a row, Big Ray and the Kool Kats have played from events in Big Sky, Montana to luxurious 11-night gigs in Cabo St. Lucas.

"They flew 27 of us– families included– and it was all you could eat and drink," Caddell says of the latter engagement. "We played tequila volleyball every night!"

Besides performing at high-profile locations– including eight straight years at the Kennedy Center Gala– Big Ray and the Kool Kats have performed alongside several big name musicians and performers. Harry Connick Jr., Martin Short, The Temptations, Frank Sinatra– even an Elvis impersonator– rank as several of Big Ray's favorite co-acts. However, for this Charlottesville trumpeter, playing alongside the 260-piece UVA marching band is just as big a treat. 

"Our performance is part of the 'Paint the Town Orange' night," he explains. "At eight, we'll do a number with the marching band for the huge football game the next day. Football players will be there, cheerleaders will be there, the coach will probably be there."

But despite the casual game-day atmosphere, don't expect Big Ray to be in shorts and a t-shirt. The polished and professional band performs in full costume– and listeners should expect a costume change at the intermission. 

"Fridays After Five is usually a very casual event, but it's a big deal for us," Caddell says.

The band– composed of a four-piece rhythm section, keyboards, guitar, a trumpet, two saxophones, a trombone, and four singers– is "the ultimate cover band," according to Caddell. Playing covers of their favorite sounds, Big Ray and the Kool Kats move from big band to Motown, Top 40 to swing. The singers include one who sounds so similar to Frank Sinatra that the band always includes a bit of Frank in the line-up. 

For Big Ray, who balances life as a trumpeter and a real estate agent, and has played music professionally for 24 years, the idea of inspiration has continued to ring true. Performing locally has yet to grow boring or dull– even though he just got word that the band has been selected for the Presidential Inaugural Ball on January 19– regardless of who wins the election.

"We're here because we want to play," he says. "There's nothing more fun than playing at home in front of people you know and love."

Big Ray and the Kool Kats play Fridays After Five on August 29 in the Downtown Pavilion.