Lots of celebrities have rock bands. They play for fun, to blow off steam, and just hang out—just like us ordinary garage rockers do. But in 2006, Greg Grunberg (Heroes, Love Bites) formed a unique celebrity cover band appropriately (and punnily) called The Band from TV (as in “banned” from TV).
BFTV is a band with a mission; virtually all of their proceeds go straight to the charities each of the band members support through the band’s foundation. Hugh Laurie (House, M.D. on piano, mandolin and vocals), Jesse Spencer (House, M.D. on fiddle), Bob Guiney (The Bachelor, vocals), James Denton (Desperate Housewives, Guitar), Adrian Pasdar (Heroes, Guitar) and Scott Grimes (Robin Hood, piano and vocals) joined Grunberg for a whirlwind tour in Chicago. The band is backed by an excellent horn section and percussionist. Guitarist Chris Kelly also serves as the band’s musical director, which, according to Grunberg is not as easy as it sounds, given the chaotic schedules of BFTV’s members.
The band played free concerts over the weekend at Harry Caray’s Tavern on Chicago’s Navy Pier and Taste of Chicago, with proceeds all going to charity. Saturday night’s set at The Vic was the only ticketed concert, and that was to benefit The Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago. According to Epilepsy Chicago, the 850 people attended and they raised more than $65,000.
Throughout the weekend, fans of all ages supported their favorite stars. Teens with blue hair clapped alongside folks clearly old enough to be their grandparents. Fans of the band’s members came from all around the country, from Maine to Georgia; Colorado to Texas. And this is the real value of the work BFTV does. Using their collective star power, they raise a huge amount of money (more than $2 million so far). Grunberg raises money for the Epilepsy Foundation and TalkAboutIt.org, Laurie for Save the Children, James Denton for The Conservation Fund, Guiney for The Art of Elysium, the Pasdar for Taia Peace Foundation, Grimes for Lupus LA, and Spencer for the Indiana University-Kenya Partnership.
BFTV’s concert is a rocking hour of cover tunes, and for guys who have pretty full day jobs (and even for guys who do music full time), they gelled very nicely on stage. Going from tune to tune (from “Mary Ann” featuring Laurie on vocals and piano to “Devil Went Down to Georgia” featuring Jesse Spencer on fiddle and “Walking in Memphis” with Grimes’ sweet vocals) BFTV gave each of the band members a moment to shine—and a moment for their fans to see their favorite television actors in an unfamiliar role.
They are all fine musicians and Guiney, who handles most of the vocals has a great voice. He was particularly effective on the ballad “Don’t Try to Explain,” a new piece just added to their repertoire by Laurie. Because they are all actors, they really know how to milk a song to good effect, but they were all clearly very into the music, and everyone put their collective heart and soul into all three sets. They clearly all take the music seriously, and even after three shows (one in blistering daytime heat and humidity) they had as much energy after the Vic show (which was more than an hour) as they had at the start of the weekend–something even more impressive when you realize that they’ve made not one nickel from their performances or the CDs and T-shirts they hawk outside the venue. It’s all for charity.
Laurie is an excellent jazz and blues pianist (as many of his fans have known for years), but he surprised many by bringing out an electric mandolin for one song (“John O’Reilly”). Spencer, who’s only just come to country fiddling in the last few years after training classically, bowed the heck out of his strings on “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” handling those difficult breakneck fiddle solos with deft ease. The band delighted the Vic audience closing the night with the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” challenging the audience to guess the song with very first synthesizer note.
Grunberg and Laurie have fun bit of banter as the introduction to one of their songs (“Shake Your Tail Feathers” ala The Blues Brothers) with Grunberg telling Laurie that there “must be something wrong with your piano.” To which Laurie counters “there’s nothing wrong with this here ‘pianeee.’” Grunberg always says, “Prove it!” and Laurie obliges with a great improve intro to the piece. It’s their regular routine to introduce the number, but there was a bit of an unexpected twist at The Vic.
Laurie had been having technical difficulties with his digital piano intermittently throughout the evening (he played a grand at the Taste and a different digital at Harry Caray’s). So when Grunberg said “prove it,” Laurie began to play, except nothing came out. Three times, until they gave up on the hapless Kurzweil and Laurie switched to a second piano (used by Scott Grimes). What could have been frustrating to Laurie and the band (and the audience) became a great inside joke for all.
On a personal note, it was a real treat during the weekend of concerts to meet up with so many regular readers of my “Welcome to the End of the Thought Process” House, M.D. feature at Blogcritics, some of whom I’d gotten to know on Twitter, but many of whom I’d never met before either in person or virtually. It was a pleasure to get to enjoy the music and stargazing along with you during a gloriously sunny (surprisingly so, since it was supposed to rain) warm Chicago weekend.
Additional photos from the weekend are available on Flickr.