Fridays farewell: End of an era of Mall rockin'

Jimmy O Band
Final Fridays at the grassy amphitheater
October 1

Perhaps it was the weather– which since the afternoon had been threatening a colossal downpour– or perhaps it was the fact that after 17 years of weekly seasonal concerts, last Friday, October 1, was the unfortunate conclusion of Fridays After 5 as it has been known.

Whatever the reason, the audience at the east end of the Downtown Mall seemed to have the pallor of death about them. Though attendance seemed down from the last few times I'd been there, those who remained were more inclined to drink their brews in silence than heavily voice their appreciation for the performers of the evening, the Jimmy O Band, in spite of the fact that Jimmy O and his troupe were exactly the sort of festival act Fridays After 5 books to please the masses.

Starting off with a "Most of this stuff is what people asked us to play," the group launched into a set of hit covers, showing off their impressive abilities as a band who can play any type of music with ease, giving due justice to the original versions. Made up of Carl Moyer on drums, Dave Buell on bass, Bill Edmonds on guitar and vocals, Ron Holloway on sax, and Jimmy O on acoustic, piano, and vocals, the group had the look and feel of a professional band– relaxed, crowd-pleasing, and utterly precise in their performance.

"Day after day I'm more confused / so I look for the light in the pouring rain" began Dobie Gray's 1973 hit "Drift Away," sung by frontman and principal lead vocalist Jimmy O, as he pounded on a set of keys. Slight sax was his only support till the song's chorus, the classic "Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul/I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away..." where the band hit on a groove identical to the original recorded version but for a slight difference in treble.

On the song's last chorus, the group launched into an instrument-less, all-singing extravaganza, which I thought might lead into the band dropping out and letting the audience sing by itself, but the band appeared to read the crowd's ennui and did not let their exuberant performance lag.

R&B numbers ebbed and yawed until the introductory guitar riff of the Doobie Brothers' "Long Train Running" perked the audience up. Sung by a guest vocalist/harmonica player who belted out the song's "Down around the corner half a mile from here / see them both feet run and you watch them disappear" verses, followed by group "Without love, where would you be now?" the number was exactly what the audience needed to get them out of their doldrums and down front dancing.

A slight rain fell as I walked away from the soon-to-be-construction-zone end of the Mall, thinking about all the good things in my life I have seen pass. But as I moved, the passing sounds of youngsters in galoshes playing the squeeze box, a half boom-boxed mariachi band, and a viola/violin duet made me believe that even without Fridays After 5, free music will live on downtown.

Jimmy O Band