Alabaster Jubilee #2 promises to be another great community celebration this October. 

 By Barry Smith and Brent Thompson
Photography by Brit Huckabay, and courtesy Michael Weidenbach

Excitement is mounting for Alabaster Jubilee #2, coming this October 22 to the green space by the historic old Siluria water tower next to Alabaster City Hall.  Jubilee # 2 is organized and managed by the Alabaster Arts Council and while the complete lineup was not final at the time of this writing, it promises to be a great day of music and community fun.  City Councilman and Alabaster Arts Council VP Jamie Cole offers this:

“This year, the location will move from the THS campus to the green space at the Alabaster municipal complex.  We have a lot of plans for that area, and this is an event that will help us create a new tradition there. Also, the focus will be more on music and local food. That’s what we are scaling to going forward. We have several events that have other aspects, but what we really want folks to do is bring a blanket or a lawn chair and just jam.”  Admission is free thanks to returning sponsors like Central State Bank and Coca-Cola among others to be named soon.

Keep watching and Facebook for more details.

In celebration of this wonderful fall event, Alabaster Connection reached out to Michael Weidenbach of the M-80s and Otha Richardson of Take 7 who will both be performing on Saturday the 22nd.

The Concert and the Classroom: Catching up with John Paul White
By Brent Thompson

In addition to being a recording and touring musician, John Paul White is co-founder of Florence-based label Single Lock Records. These days, the singer/songwriter has added yet another endeavor to his already busy career—teaching at his alma mater, the University of North Alabama. “I’m teaching Songwriting & Artist Career Development this semester,” he says. “I’m artist-in-residence, and I’m teaching a couple of classes, and I’m still touring and still writing and still doing Single Lock Records. I got a call from the dean, who’s a friend of mine, and I said, ‘You might be knocking on the door at exactly the right time.’ I’ve toyed with the idea for a long time, and I’ve always wanted to come back to my alma mater and give back. It’s been a while since I’ve been in school, but I can distinctly remember wishing there were people with real experiences in the industry who could’ve given me insight at the time. It’s incredibly rewarding. I’m still trying to figure out the balancing act of touring and writing going along with this.”

On October 22, White will perform at Alabaster Jubilee at 7 p.m.

White initially forged his career in a music business that looked far different from today’s industry. However, he knows that teaching aspiring artists these days means including streaming, social media, and other modern topics into his curriculum. “As much as I don’t want to admit it, I’m from a generation that didn’t do any of that digital marketing type stuff,” he says. “It was pretty blissful—just creating and touring and creating and touring. Now, we’ve learned through Single Lock Records, it’s just part of it. Whether you like it or not, you have to actively think of a way to sell yourself every day—if you don’t, you get left behind.”

Never one to sit still, White recently found himself performing with a symphony accompaniment. In April, he will perform in Birmingham at Alys Stephens Center with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. “I have to give credit to Daniel Stevens, who’s the conductor at UNA,” White says enthusiastically. “It was his brainstorm to have the Shoals Symphony play with me. Here, at Norton Auditorium in Florence, we had two performances. My band sits in front of the orchestra—it’s overwhelming, and it’s hard to concentrate on your song lyrics when this gorgeous symphony is happening behind you. The Alabama Symphony got wind of it and reached out and said, ‘Can we bring it down here, and you do it with our folks?’ I said, ‘That was the dream in the first place.’ Who knows? Maybe we can take this around the country, and this will be the first step toward it.”

A Shared Experience: Catching up with Michael Weidenbach of The M-80s
By Brent Thompson

 There is no denying that ‘80s music has left an enduring mark, thanks in large part to the impactful coupling of audio and video created by MTV. Michael Weidenbach—Alabaster resident, owner of Frios Gourmet Pops, and bassist for ‘80s revivalists The M-80s—is one of many music lovers who came of age in the decade and remains enamored by its music. “There was a technological revolution at that point in time that caused recordings to have an energy that previous decades did not, and it made it more exciting,” Weidenbach says. “They were experimenting with new sounds and electronic equipment, and it helped them to write a bunch of songs that were a little more lighthearted than ‘60s or ‘70s songs and a lot more fun.”

On Saturday, October 22, at 5 p.m. The M-80s will perform at the second annual Alabaster Jubilee.

While other ‘80s cover and tribute bands exist, The M-80s were in the initial wave of bands recreating the music. “I have records that extend all the way back to 2009 or 2010,” Weidenbach recalls. “The guitarist, Mike (Tucker), and myself met back then, jammed in the garage and came up with the idea. This has always been a five-piece band, and we’ve always had a female lead singer. From the beginning, we thought if we were going to do these songs, we needed to do them right and make them sound like the originals.”

With a decade’s worth of songs at its disposal, how does the quintet comprise its song list? “We decided early on that hair metal was not going to be our strong suit,” Weidenbach explains. “There were a lot of guys already playing it who were younger and looked the part more than we did. So, we decided to work with a female lead singer and decided we were going to do pop songs, sticking with artists who were universally appealing like Journey, The B-52s, and The Go-Go’s. That was a niche that nobody else was doing at the time in Birmingham. It allows us to go into more family friendly environments and allows us to play in places where we don’t have to be as loud because we’re not playing straight-up hard rock music. We’ve got slow songs, soft songs, fast and happy songs, and it works great for a mixed crowd anyplace we go.”

 These days, The M-80s play enough annual shows to fulfill its members while allowing time for family and business life. Members include Michael on bass, Jenni Mote on vocals, Mike Tucker lead guitar, Larry Gambrill on drums, and Jamie Cole on keys. Although Michael, Mike, and Larry have been together for a decade, the lineup has evolved over time with Jenni joining the band in 2016 and Jamie coming on board last year.

“I would say we play around 30 dates a year,” Weidenbach says. “A few years ago, we collectively decided not to be a bar band anymore, getting home at four in the morning. We decided we were better suited to be an event band. Now, we seek out opportunities like Jubilee, where we get to play bigger shows for more people. We travel to Huntsville pretty regularly and occasionally travel to Destin and the Gulf Coast. It’s fun to play for people who haven’t heard us before.”

In addition to performing a catalog of songs that he loves, Weidenbach sees ‘80s music as a connector of different age groups. “Our formula finally hit its stride when people realized they wanted to hear their favorite songs performed the way they remember them. That taps into their nostalgia—they know all the words to all the songs, so many sing along. I listened to this music when I was in high school, and my parents to listened to it because I listened to it. My kids heard it when they were young, and now they know all the songs, too. We’ve got several generations hooked together with a musical vocabulary that we all understand.”

Passion in Play: Otha Richardson of Take 7 Lays it Down
By Barry Wise Smith

Otha Richardon fell in love with percussion on the drumline at R.E. Hunt High School in Columbus, Mississippi. After graduation, and influenced by his sociology/psychology teacher in school, Richardson went on to Mississippi Valley State in the Mississippi Delta to study psychology and sociology and play drums in the band.

“We (the band) were called the Mean Mean Green Machine,” Richardson recalls. “We played in the Tournament of Roses Parade. It was such a positive experience with friends and music—guys on the drum line still communicate to this day.”

After Richardson finished his degree at MVS, a plan to get a graduate degree was sidelined when he took a job as a technician for AT&T. Moving up through the company, Richardson and his wife Debra, who he met in college (“She fell in love with me,” he says with a wide smile.), moved their family to Shelby County in 1988 for a job opportunity.

“I was working, and I was busy with family when I wasn’t at work, so 30 years went by without me playing drums,” Richardson says. “When I retired in 2007, I decided I was going to get back to the drums. I started taking lessons and learning rudimental jazz. My instructors were like ‘I can tell you have played before,’ but I had a lot to catch up on.”

In 2010 Richardson and several of his fellow AT&T retirees formed a band that played locally. The group grew to seven members, thus the name Take 7. The group plays weddings, reunions, and other events, and they’ll kick off Jubilee #2 on Saturday, October 22nd.

Take 7 is made up of Richardson on the drums, lead vocalist Naomi Brown, Vincent Perry on keys, trumpet player Nathaniel Bagley, saxophonist Tyrone Cook, guitarist Marcus Noel, and bassist Eugene Black. “We are a very versatile band,” Richardson says. “We have a college music instructor, a lawyer, an engineer. We are professional, mature adults who love playing music.” While a jazzy and bluesy sound is Take 7’s baseline, they cater their set lists to the audience to make sure everyone is dancing and having fun. “For the Jubilee, we’re going to mix it up,” Richardson says.

After his 30-year music hiatus, Richardson is enjoying being back in the band. “It’s so fun, and we’re building relationships,” he says. “It was good back then, and its even better now.”

Otha Richardson is an Alabaster resident who serves on the Arts Council in additon to playing in his band. He is married to Debra and they have a grown son and daughter.