Barbecued ribs and good live music are always a great combination, and the Merrimack Rotary Club’s annual Rock’n Ribfest includes plenty of the latter, beginning with a teen band competition on opening night. After the young bands — The Cat’s Pajamas, Levity, This is Mutiny, The Cranks and Figure 8 — battle for musical supremacy, past winners Tom Flash & The Lightning Band and Friday After Five will perform sets.
The local talent showcase is a prelude to Friday evening’s headliner, 1964: The Tribute, a Beatles cover band that recreates the British Invasion vintage of the Fab Four, the bespoke bunch that appeared on Ed Sullivan, Ready Steady Go and Shindig. With 28 years together, the group is a leader in a crowded field; they’ve filled venues such as Carnegie Hall and Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and even performed at Shea Stadium before it was torn down in 2008.
Saturday’s outdoor main stage events will kick off rain or shine at 11 a.m. with the teen band competition winner followed by The Slakas, a five-piece rock ’n’ roll favorite on the New England rock scene, along with The Pop Farmers and The Sixties centric Psychedelic Relics.
Sunday begins with the second-place finisher in the teen band competition, and closes with a rowdy performance by The Blues Brothers the Next Generation. The day also honors Americans in uniform; active duty, active reserve, ready reserve service members and National Guardsman will receive free admission with a Department of Defense photo ID, along with up to four family members.
When he was in seventh grade, Kyle Turner watched the original Blues Brothers movie starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, and it changed his life. He went to see his friend John D’Amico, who just happened to be a musician.
“He started banging on my door,” D’Amico recalled recently. “He said, ‘I just saw the greatest movie ever’ — and he wanted to play it at the school talent show.”
The two began putting together an act. Turner assumed the Aykroyd role, borrowed a friend’s tape and recruited their friend Greg Dorfman to play the Belushi character, Jake Blues. From the get-go, it was bare bones.
“No harmonicas, impromptu suits, nothing planned,” D’Amico says, but the trio won the talent competition easily. Soon they received a request for a repeat performance, followed by many more.
It remained a hobby, a spare-time project for the next 12 years. But in 2008, they decided to put together a backup band and got serious. Added to the trio of high school pals at the core of BBNG were seven players, including a three-piece horn section. The group quickly became a regular at bars, restaurants and farmers markets around their hometown of Merrimack.
The original Blues Brothers only made a pair of albums before Belushi died in 1982. Like the original band, BBNG took some time learning soul music from the classic era to augment their set — “Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Motown,” D’Amico says, “material they would have picked had they continued on. We just make that our own in the style of the Blues Brothers and come up with new chorography.”
The band came up with another show business touch that gets plenty of attention.
“Ever since we started the act, we were always wondering what happened to the Bluesmobile,” D’Amico says. When he took to the Internet to find out, he found an Alabama-based version of the band (led by a pair of actual brothers) with a restored 1977 Dodge Royal Monaco for sale. “They’d do one up to look like a cop car, use it for a couple years and sell it off.”
It’s a staple at BBNG gigs, and occasionally Dorfman will dance on the roof of the car as it rolls toward the stage or in a parade. Over the years they’ve done some exciting shows, like a benefit last year for Helping Hands, an organization that trains capuchin monkeys to provide in-home assistance to people with disabilities.
“During ‘Sweet Home Chicago,’ Greg proposed to his girlfriend, now his fiancée,” D’Amico recalls. “So I’m going on record as saying that’s his most memorable gig — he’ll thank me.”
With apologies to such a tender story, the Rock’n Ribfest may end up even bigger than that. Because BBNG will perform on the day when winners of the New Hampshire State Barbeque Championship are announced, the band expects an especially big turnout — likely the largest crowd they’ve ever played for.
“They’re adding an air show this year and anticipating around 40,000 people — the most we’ve played for is two to three thousand,” D’Amico says. “For kids that started in talent shows and Boy Scouts, that’s going to be like an arena show for us. We’re super excited.”