Live music on the East End has gone big-time this summer. But even if a huge Hamptons music festival is typically more your thing, there’s something about kicking back with a bottle of vino (or two, or…) and some old time rock ’n’ roll, especially in Long Island Wine Country.
If you’re thinking of heading out to Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards when Below Average White Band hits the stage on Saturday afternoon, however, lead singer Mike Magee says you’ll want to make sure bring your A-game. Or at least your Rock Band game. “If you’re in the crowd and you say you can sing, or you think you can sing a little bit, we’ll let you come up for at least a song,” he says. “If you’re real good we try to hold onto you. We try to make it an interactive experience. If you’re there with 20 or 30 people in your family and you’re up there trying to do your thing, they’re having the time of their lives watching you. And we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
As if such a thing could be possible with that band name or origin story. It’s not exactly the fates arranging the Lennon and McCartney meeting. “I went away with a group of four or five guys to Costa Rica for my 40th birthday,” says Magee, 45, a guidance counselor and coach in his regular life when not fronting the group that’s played at Osprey’s as an acoustic duo, acoustic trio, a quartet with a piano player and a full band. “We had two or three guys with us who were musicians and we’d be playing on the beach, and more and more people gravitated to it.
“As a lark on the plane home I said, ‘You know, if we actually practiced once or twice we might actually be able to play out somewhere.’ And five years later, here we are. We’re not opening up the Meadowlands any time soon, but we’re having a great time with it.”
The band did practice a few times—three or four, total, by Magee’s count—but became truly below average (or above—semantics get tricky with these guys) when they expanded. “We started out as a little acoustic trio, and then I had the idea of inviting this slick 15-year-old guitar player who I remembered from middle school,” Magee goes on. “He was like a freshman in high school and I bumped into him, and he said, ‘Hey, Coach Magee, I hear you have a little bit of a band.’”
The kid, Brian Mancuso, jammed with them and fit in right away with Magee, his brother Dan Magee (acoustic guitar and harmonica) and guitarist Nick Roselli, then brought two of his own young friends—drummer Luke LaGrega and bass player John Llerandi—to complete the act. “They were phenomenal,” Magee recalls. “I had to learn the songs that these kids knew how to play, but for the most part they listened their old mans’ records, which was lucky for me since it was all ’60s and ’70s classic rock and roll. So now I had this salt-and-pepper band.”
The diversity in age makes for a diverse set. “We’re going to be playing Neil Young, CSNY. We’ll do some Jackson Brown, some soft Beatles, and then before you know it we’ll be doing Jimi Hendricks and Cream, The Who—we really go all around.
“We cover so many different artists, we don’t do too many songs from any one,” he continues. “I never wanted to be in a Journey cover band or an Allman Brothers cover band—that’s like my worst nightmare. So we’ll do two by Crowded House and three Beatles songs and kind of jump around. ‘La Bamba,’ ‘Pinball Wizard.’ We do an interesting cover of “Margaritaville,” but we kind of hybrid it and marry Jimmy Buffett with Frank Zappa. Sooner or later we’re going to play something to make everybody happy.”
Below Average White Band plays Osprey’s Dominion on Saturday, July 30, from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. [/expand]