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August 29, 2014

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Music:

Sha Na Na, an outlier at Woodstock, has 8 years covered

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Sha Na Na, performing classic rock from the 50s and 60s, will perform at South Point from Nov. 13-15.

If You Go

  • Who: Sha Na Na
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday
  • Where: South Point
  • Tickets: $25 to $35; 797-8055

Beyond the Sun

The 30 acts that performed at Woodstock in 1969 were a who’s who of a musical era.

More than half a million fans turned out to hear the likes of the Who, the Dead, the Band, the Airplane, Santana, Creedence, Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix and Sha Na Na.

Sha Na Na?

“It either made perfect sense for us to be invited to Woodstock, or it didn’t make any sense at all,” Sha Na Na founding member drummer John “Jocko” Marcellino says from his home in La Jolla, Calif. “We were very much against the grain, but on the other hand we were celebrating the roots of what was going on there.”

The group, celebrating its 40th year in the business, will perform Friday through Sunday at South Point.

Expect to hear such classics as “At the Hop,” “Pony Time,” “Save the Last Dance for Me” and “Rock ’n’ Roll Is Here to Stay.”

Woodstock was only the eighth gig for the rock ’n’ roll show band, which performed — and still performs — classic songs from the period 1955 to 1962.

They were to perform for the 500,000 on Friday then were bumped to Saturday then to Sunday and then Monday, the last day.

“We almost got bounced from the show,” Marcellino says. “We were completely unknown. We didn’t even make the poster. Finally they said, ‘Sha Na Na, you’re on.’ And we did a half-hour or 40 minutes, whatever it was.”

The group performed just ahead of Hendrix, the concert’s final act.

In essence, Sha Na Na opened for Jimi Hendrix at the world’s most memorable rock ’n’ roll event.

“Actually, all 30 acts opened for Hendrix,” Marcellino says.

One of the group’s most memorable characters was Bowzer (Jon Bauman), who was not a member of Sha Na Na at Woodstock. He joined up the next year and left in 1983, almost 26 years ago.

Since that momentous weekend at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in upstate New York, Sha Na Na’s popularity has ebbed and flowed. In the early years the band had its own TV show and appeared in the movie “Grease.” It appeared regularly at the Fillmore East and was in demand on the concert circuit.

Today Sha Na Na does about 50 engagements a year.

Through the years more than 40 musicians have been with the group, which formed in early 1969 at Columbia University in New York City. Only Marcellino, “Screamin” Scott Simon and Donald York remain of the original 12 members.

“We were such a hit on campus that right away we knew were onto something,” Marcellino says.

They had only 12 songs in their repertoire in the beginning, so at their first concert at the Grease Ball on the Columbia campus they had to perform each song twice.

The act is much slicker today.

“When people say, ‘Let’s get Sha Na Na,’ they know exactly what they’re getting,” Marcellino says. “What we do isn’t a mystery. We do big fun shows, playing this great music that we all share.

“We do original rock ’n’ roll, rockabilly, doo wop harmony, small band numbers, big band numbers with five-part harmony.”

The songs they play have become America’s folk music, Marcellino believes.

“If you sit down with a family of three or four generations they are not sharing heavy metal or hip hop,” he says. “The only things they really share are these songs, like ‘Be My Baby,’ the musical catalog we all know.”

This year has been busier than usual because of the Woodstock anniversary. In July the band released “Sha Na Na: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition.”

“I’ve done a lot of Woodstock stuff,” he says. “I hosted a show at the Hard Rock in New York. Then there was a DVD party with Richie Havens. Some guys from Santana and the Grateful Dead were there.”

Sha Na Na is among the oldest bands in the country, right up there with the Rolling Stones (1962), Canned Heat (1965) and Santana (1966).

At 59, Marcellino has no plans to quit rockin’.

“I can’t conceive of stopping,” he says. “Look at Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger. There’s a generation of guys who are still great, out there rocking. Rock ’n’ roll is here to stay.”

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