As the house lights dimmed the groups long-time roadie, Buddy Ferguson, spoke into the microphone, The St. James Group was the best rock n roll band to ever come out of Arkansas and twenty-five years ago they played all over the country. They were legends in their own time. So tonight, November 9, 2003, under a full moon let us take you back! With only three short sentences, Buddy, ignited the capacity crowd and set into motion a chain of events that began six months earlier and ended that night one hour and forty minutes later. The crowd burst into wild cheers as The St. James Group took the stage to reclaim their unique position in Arkansas music history. After twenty-five years, a 21-song set, and two encores, there was no question they had succeeded.
The evening began six months earlier when the original band members agreed to reunite for a Reunion Concert to celebrate the release of two CDs. The initial meeting to plan the event took place on Memorial Day, May 26, 2003. Some of the members had not seen each other since their final performance together in 1978, and only later at the first full-band rehearsal on September 14, would the entire band be reunited. The first few months were spent locating the bands original songs, transferring the cuts to digital, and re-mastering the recordings into two Anthology CDs. The first announcement was mailed on September 8 and simply read:
The St. James Group Reunion Concert
Mark your calendar! After 25 years, The St. James Group is having one last fling and youre invited! The original group is getting together for a performance to celebrate the release of St. James Group Anthology CDs. Join fans, family and friends as we celebrate the groups career from 1968-1978 during rock n rolls golden era.
Immediately after the first announcement, public interest in the Reunion Concert started to build. The press called for interviews and the first of many articles about the band started to appear in print. The bands music was played on a few local radio stations; band members were interviewed on the air and invited to appear on a morning radio drive program. By the week of the show, anticipation was at its peak and the band was ready to rock after only three rehearsals
On the day of the show, sound & lighting loaded in at 10:00 a.m. followed by the film crew and the bands equipment. By early evening, Juanitas was packed with fans even before the doors officially opened. Old fans had come from as far away as California, Colorado, Nashville, Texas, Florida and all over Arkansas. Excitement filled the room and the crowd bristled with anticipation as Rick Calhoun took the stage with words of welcome:
Good evening ladies & gentlemen! On behalf of the original members of The St. James Group its my privilege to welcome you, one and all, to The St. James Group Reunion Concert. Were here to celebrate ten years of music during an era of rock n roll revolution a revolution that changed society. The St. James Group played its first date together thirty-five years ago in 1968. And twenty-five years ago, on November 25, 1978 the band performed its last show. Tonight we hope to share some of the magic from the past, and at the same time, re-create some of the music from a special era in American history.
The original members of the band, and many in the audience tonight, are members of a unique generation that is defined by its music. Rock music defined the culture in the 1960s and was the common denominator that we all shared. So tonight, we celebrate more than a band we celebrate an era that changed society forever and is still part of us today. Tonight, were going to celebrate the past, the present, and the future. But our goal is to take you back to a special place.
Rick proceeded to recognize people in the audience who played an important role in the lives of the band. He then introduced Governor Mike Huckabee who made a few remarks about the band and explained that; I have always been a fan and admirer of the band. The Governor then announced an Executive Proclamation declaring November 9, 2003 as St. James Group Day throughout the State of Arkansas.
Excitement filled the room as longtime roadie, Buddy Ferguson, quietly walked to the stage. After his simple introduction, the crowd burst into cheers as the band headed to the stage. With a One, two, three count, the bands music hit the room like a pent-up summer storm.
The next morning on Page 2B, in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Laura Browns review appeared beneath the headline:
St. James Group makes time stand still for Juanitas crowd
A wrinkle in time opened up at Juanitas on Sunday night when St. James Group, an Arkansas rock band from the 1970s, re-created the sound of that era in a reunion concert, a sort of silver anniversary 25 years after disbanding in 1978.
The band kicked off a few minutes early with Living on Borrowed Time. Guitarist, singer and founding member Rick Calhoun, who organized this reunion effort, introduced most songs and started the evening saying, Were really here to celebrate time . If we can accomplish one thing, its to make time stand still and create a little magic for you.
The six core members of the band played for a solid hour and 40 minutes with no intermission, cycling smoothly through a 21-song set of mostly originals that recalled the groups evolution through rock n roll, bluegrass, country and songs that straddled genres.
Lead singer Mark Hays, who wrote many of the bands songs, showed he can still wail a rock song and pour emotion into a ballad. He also looked almost giddy to be playing with the band once again.
The drums are the heartbeat of a band, and Johnny Bradley pumped a healthy beat. Multi-instrumentalist Andy Fullerton was equally adept at electric guitar solos, hot fiddling and warp-speed banjo playing. At the keyboard, Chuck Gordon was all business under a large white cowboy hat; his honky-tonk-tinged solos drew some of the loudest midsong appreciation from the crowd, especially from women in attendance.
The guys have less hair and more pounds than they did 30 years ago, though bass guitarist Mark Calhoun, Ricks younger brother, was still able to fit into his old rhinestone cowboy shirt the same shirt he wore in the groups publicity photo from the 70s.
The band was especially hot on Chickasaw Railroad, Good Note Shuffle and the bittersweet Has the Time Made You More Wise?
Though fliers for the event said doors would open at 7 for the 7:30 concert, the place was filled by 6:30 and drew a standing-room-only crowd (including Gov. Mike Huckabee, who plays with Rick Calhoun in the band Capitol Offense). Two anthology CDs of re-mastered early recordings and a 52-page booklet documenting the bands history were also free for the taking.
It might have been the biggest crowd of baby boomers assembled for a concert at Juanitas, though there were also audience members who were born after the band stopped playing. Jeans and cowboy boots mingled with blazers and belt-clipped cell phones.
When the band played their traditional closing tune, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, they had people on their feet, clapping hands above their heads a truly transcendent moment. The band came back for two encore tunes, adding former band members Chuck Gilbert on pedal steel guitar and Danny Dozier on mandolin.
Indeed, it was a magic evening for everyone those on the stage and those off. It was a moment in time that captured the spirit of a generation through its music. The 1960s and 1970s are gone and will never return, but the music is timeless. In fact, its the foundation of contemporary country and continues to define an entire generation. The St. James Groups Reunion Concert was a huge success! It celebrated the band, their music, and an era. The Reunion also re-kindled a desire to once again make the bands music available to loyal fans. For the next few minutes as you enjoy the photos; Let us take you back!