“When the Buddy Holly show happened, I went from complete obscurity in this cover band, playing for 20 people to playing sold out shows for two months. I wanted to see how long we could keep it going. 12 years later, we are a national act,” said singer and performer Billy McGuigan of his Buddy Holly show, Rave On.
These days, McGuigan and his band have three shows they tour with: Rave On, Yesterday and Today (featuring the Beatles’ music) and Rock Legends.
McGuigan acknowledges there’s no way he could have enjoyed a successful, full-time career as a singer without a lot of support along the way. And one of the first people to step up and encourage him was his father, Bill, who passed away from Leukemia in 1996 at the age of 42.
“He was a military guy and though he may have wanted me to play football or baseball, he was always super supportive. When I was in 10th grade, I was in The Music Man and he was like, “Billy, ‘Till there was you’ was in The Music Man and the Beatles did that.” His encouragement was always with me,” explained McGuigan.
The more he thought about it, the more he thought what better way to honor his father’s memory than to start a scholarship for a student like Billy, one who had a passion for the arts and needed help financially. To raise the funds required for the scholarship, McGuigan and his band will play two shows this weekend at Bellevue East High School (McGuigan’s alma mater).
A portion of the ticket sales will go to benefit the Bill McGuigan Memorial Fund Scholarship which will be set up for a Bellevue East student who is looking to pursue a career in the arts. And that can be anything from music or theatre to journalism or art
McGuigan said he contacted Bellevue East High School because that’s where his career started and they were gracious enough to let the band use their theatre. He said the performances will be a combination of all three of the band’s shows plus some original music.
During the shows, McGuigan said he will take the audience on a walk down memory lane.
“20 years gives you a perspective on your life where you can look back at yourself and hopefully laugh at what you were like in high school,” he said.
The band will do some souped up rock songs and maybe some songs from musicals McGuigan performed in when he was in high school.
Calling his band “unbelievable,” he said the musicians will include his road band as well as special guests, Jimmy Weber, guitar; Johnny Ray Gomez IV, keyboards; and Stan Harper, sax.
“It will be a huge sound, unlike anything we’ve ever done which is really exciting,” said McGuigan.
There’s a good chance there will be some audience participation in the shows as well. McGuigan said he’s still fleshing out how they will do that. He said it may take the form of request cards or the band may be loose about it; go into the audience and see what people want to hear.
He said the band can literally play anything from jazz to country to rock.
They will also do a songwriter’s workshop with some of the Bellevue East kids during the day this weekend. McGuigan explained if any songs come out of the workshop that are good enough, the band can play the song one evening with a couple of the students.
McGuigan said he thinks his programs do well because even though they are “tribute shows,” they do not fall into the cheesy category or what most people think of when they hear that term.
He said Rave On is theatrical and funny. McGuigan said he and his band do not wear wigs or affect accents during the Beatles show and they leave the set list up to the audience. And those song choices make up the narrative for the evening. For McGuigan, putting the power in the audience’s hands and letting them sculpt their own show, really gets people involved in the performance.
“All three of the shows completely change all the time. With Rave On, the set list changes every night. With 200+ songs, we have been able to keep it fresh,” said McGuigan.
Buddy Holly was a prolific musician. In an 18-month career (before he died in a plane crash that also killed fellow musicians, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens), he wrote around 120 songs which he recorded.
At this point, McGuigan is more a fan of Holly’s obscure songs versus his more popular tunes like “Peggy Sue” or “That’ll Be the Day.” His favorite right now is “Modern Don Juan.”
“A lot of things he did in the ‘50s are now commonplace. I think Buddy was ahead of his time and was very sharp. I enjoy the edginess and energy of the songs,” said McGuigan.
One of the biggest myths about the band is that they only play to individuals in their 60s and 70s and McGuigan said that’s just not true. He explained there has been a resurgence of younger people discovering this music. For McGuigan, those are the people he wants to invigorate and get excited about this music.
Being passionate about the arts is one of the key requirements for the Bill McGuigan Scholarship. This scholarship will be need based and will be awarded to someone who has a desire to pursue something a little more involved than trying theatre their first semester in college.
“When I went to college I went there to be a theatre major and thought I would end eventually end up on Saturday Night Live. Then you get into college and realize that it’s not going to happen. Even so, I still acted and did things like that. Then around 1999 I joined my first band. When I didn’t get Saturday Night Live at 21, I could have said, ‘Ah, whatever,’ but instead I reinvented myself and discovered what I was good at,” said McGuigan.
For the new scholarship, McGuigan said students who are interested will be interviewed. He said they will be looking for a student with a desire to perform who also has a financial need for assistance. Normally, a student has to be really good at either English or Math to get a good scholarship for theatre or something in the arts. That is why this scholarship is so different.
“I am just excited to be able to perform in honor of my dad. This show will be extra special for him. I wish he was here but because he’s not, we are going to do something special for him,” said McGuigan.
Billy McGuigan and his band perform at the Bellevue East High School Auditorium, 1401 High School Drive, Bellevue, NE, Friday, June 20 and Saturday, June 21. The 7:30 p.m. shows cost $25 in advance or $30 at the door. Call 402.682.2868 or email Kate@BillyMcGuigan.com.