Atlanta Rhythm Section heads to Harrington for Bourbon, Beer and Butts

Atlanta Rhythm Section, whose hits include “Spooky,” “So Into You” and “Imaginary Lover,” will play the first Bourbon, Beer & Butts event at Exhibit Hall on the Delaware State Fairgrounds on Saturday. (Submitted photo)

HARRINGTON — The classic meets the new Saturday as the Delaware State Fair presents the first Bourbon, Beer & Butts event featuring the ’70s rock sounds of Atlanta Rhythm Section and Rare Earth.

The day will include tastings of fine bourbon and wines, a barbecue dinner from Mission BBQ in Dover, craft and domestic beer and the concert.

Although part of the Q Concert Series that started in June at the Quillen Arena with country star Kane Brown, Saturday’s B3 event has been moved to the Exhibit Hall on the fairgrounds.

Delaware State Fair Assistant General Manager Danny Aguilar said the change of venue is due to the recent rains and the unpredictability of the weather.

“With the weather we are getting this week, we decided to move it to Exhibit Hall. It’s a better climate-controlled environment where folks can focus on the overall experience,” he said Tuesday.

“This allows even the parking to be put into paved areas, where with the Quillen Arena, some folks would have perhaps had to park in muddy areas.”

Also with the change of venue came a change in the number of bands performing. When announced earlier this year, Poco and Firefall were to join the bill. But Mr. Aguilar says the size of Exhibit Hall does not allow space for four bands to sufficiently get ready and perform throughout the night.

Musical memories

That’s music to the ears of Atlanta Rhythm Section lead singer Rodney Justo, whose band will now play longer than they would have otherwise.

“I’m very happy we’ll be able to do that,” he said Tuesday by phone from his home in Tampa, Florida.

“Some gigs we do five of our hits and we’re off the stage. This allows us to have a little more fun, interact with the audience more and get into some of our deeper tracks that the fans want to hear with the extra time.”

Mr. Justo was the band’s original singer when Atlanta Rhythm Section was put together in the spring of 1970 by manager, songwriter and producer Buddy Buie.

A former member of Roy Orbison’s backup band The Candymen, Mr. Justo joined four other musicians to form ARS.

“I got a call one day from Buddy who said ‘I’m building this studio with three other partners and we’re going to cut other artists’ record while we are making our own,” explained Mr. Justo.

“Buddy had success with Roy Orbison and Classics IV but his goal was to have his own band and have the songs sound the way he wanted with the way he wanted them to be sung.”

The new facility became Studio One near Atlanta that would go on to be home for such bands as Journey, Lynyrd Skynyrd, .38 Special and The Outlaws.

In between playing on other people’s recordings, it took ARS two years to put out their first album, which was self-titled. The record was critically well received but was not a commercial success.

Mr. Justo grew quickly disillusioned and left the band a short time later. He was replaced by Ronnie Hammond, assistant to Studio One’s engineer, Rodney Mills.

“People ask me ‘Why did you leave?’ It’s never one thing. It was an accumulation of things,” he said.

“But I had a great life. I believe if you change one thing, you change everything.”

Working with other bands until the late 1970s, Mr. Justo quit music entirely and went home to Tampa, Florida to work for a beer and wine distributorship.

It was during that time that ARS took off with Mr. Hammond at the helm, scoring hits such as “Spooky,” “Imaginary Lover,” “So Into You” and “I’m Not Going to Let it Bother Me Tonight.”

Rare Earth will also be a part of the concert portion of Bourbon, Beer & Butts starting at 6 p.m Their hits include “Get Ready,” “Big Brother,” “Born to Wander” and “I Just Want To Celebrate.” (Submitted photo)

Mr. Justo said he was never envious of the band’s success without him. In fact, he enjoyed it.

“They were still my friends. When I was in Atlanta, we’d go out. When they came to Tampa, I’d go and see them. They were always one of my favorite bands,” he said.

“You don’t find many bands that had the lyrical content or the chord structures that we have.”

He was coaxed out a few times over the years to play with ARS, including an extended stay in 1983 but it was only for a short while.

Then in 2011, almost 40 years after that initial record, the band was looking for a new lead singer and Mr. Buie called him to ask if he would come back.

“By that point they had basically become a tribute band with only the keyboard player Dean Daughtry as an original. But then he started talking about the bass player Paul Goddard (who passed away in 2014) coming back and that was half the band back and that sounded intriguing,” Mr. Justo said.

“Buddy said ‘You’re part of the legacy. If the band is going to continue, who’s going to do a better job than you?’ So here I am.”

Because Mr. Buie would coach his lead singers to sing his songs the same way, Mr. Justo has a vocal sound similar to Mr. Hammond.

“You’ll get people coming up to you and saying ‘You haven’t lost a thing in all these years. You still sound like you did on the record.’ But you just smile and say ‘Thank you.’ You don’t want to burst their bubble,” Mr. Justo said with a laugh.

Nearing his 74th birthday, he said he’s having a blast performing again with ARS after all these years.

“Nobody leaves our show thinking they didn’t get their money’s worth. I’m truly living the dream,” he said.

“I was the first in and I may be the last to leave.”

Atlanta Rhythm Section will be joined by Rare Earth, the first big hit-making act signed by Motown that consisted only of white members. Their hits include “Get Ready,” “Big Brother,” “Born to Wander” and “I Just Want To Celebrate.”

The concert caps the day starting at 6 p.m.

Pouring it on

At 4 p.m., the bourbon tasting will begin with almost a dozen different varieties from makers such as Elijah Craig, Larceny, Bernheim, Evan Williams, Basil Hayden, Jim Beam and Knob Creek.

There will also be Robert Mondavi Private Selection, Bourbon Barrel selections including aged Cabernet Sauvignon and aged Chardonnay along with a bourbon-infused Budweiser beer.

For B3, Mr. Aguilar said fair officials wanted to expand the fall event beyond just a concert or simple beer festival.

“We noticed that there are a lot of craft beer festivals out there but the trend seems to be going toward bourbon tastings now,” he said.

“After doing our research, we wanted to try something new. We brought in the ’70s rock bands to appeal to an older demographic and then reached out to different manufacturers and distilleries to create an event that we think people are going to love.”

There are various packages available for Saturday’s event including VIP and concert-only tickets. For more information, visit DelawareStateFair.com.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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