The Sixties Show (Photo provided by Craig O'Keefe)

Put on your tie-dye t-shirts, hop in your VW van and plan on heading on down to the Jane Pickens Film and Events Center on November 20. The Sixties Show is coming to town.

The Sixties Show is a multimedia theatrical production built around classic songs from the decade that changed everything. The performance features an A-List of musicians including former band members of The Who, Bob Dylan, and the Saturday Night Live band.

Craig O’Keefe, a lifelong musician who has toured and recorded extensively developed the production several years ago. “I had an idea to start a big multimedia show about the 1960s,” said O’Keefe in a recent interview. “The show involves multimedia built around the concert.”

With such a strong catalog of ’60s music available I asked him how he went about selecting what tunes they play in concert. Most will be familiar to music fans, but won’t necessarily be songs that are “in rotation” on classic rock radio.

“I didn’t want to do anything that you hear constantly, however, we do a lot of hits. We also do B-sides, and deep album cuts,” said O’Keefe. “Our criteria when we pick songs is to make sure it sounds exactly like the record. We don’t use any backtracks, no samples, and no pre-recorded music. It’s just six musicians with our two hands doing this ourselves as a live ensemble.”

O’Keefe does the research with the goal of achieving a high degree of authenticity. He studies the details of each song before the band adds it to the setlist.

“You can go online and find information about how they recorded each song. Who is the producer, what type of tape machine did they use, what type of microphones, what type of compression … all boring stuff that nobody cares about,” laughed O’Keefe. “We look at the guitars, the amps, what kind of mic placement they used. That’s kind of our recipe for success.”

The key for the band is to sound authentic. “We don’t add or modify or change anything that’s not on the recording. This is a ‘note for note show.’ You’re not gonna hear an interpretation, this is exactly how the original recording sounds. It can be a labor of love, it’s quite challenging to do,” says O’Keefe.

The band uses vintage and vintage reissued gear to achieve that sound. “Of course, we use modern keyboards to duplicate strings, horns, and mellotrons to get the sounds from back in the day. The rest of the gear you’re seeing are vintage instruments,” added O’Keefe.

The decade of the 1960s endures in modern popular culture. O’Keefe, who was “barely out of diapers” before the decade ended, noted that the audience comes from multiple generations.

“Some of the people who come see us are of the age where they walked into a record store in the ’60s and bought records. There are people who were born in the 70s or 80s or 90s and there are even kids in their teens and twenties who come see us. There’s still such a strong interest in everything about the decade in pop culture and music. There’s something about that era that resonates with them,” he said.

“The show is a pop culture immersive experience, there’s archival images, footage, and narration about different events from the decade. Each song has a video behind us that specifically pertains to that song. Everything is tied in it’s a seamless sort of experience,” he added.

O’Keefe is an unapologetic fan of the music of the 1960’s.

“I think the golden age of western music is the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, and of course, there are amazing artists today,” he acknowledged. “Was music better back then? Look at the songwriting, look at the limitations they had in recording. In the 60s, you had a heightened consciousness, an era where everything evolved, socially, culturally, philosophically… from a pop culture perspective the whole world went into color.”

“It’s amazing when you look back and you see the Billboard charts. What was the Top 40 that week, well the top ten could have been The Beatles, Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, The Rolling Stones, Shirley Bassey, different types of music, that’s how it was. Now it’s very consciously compartmentalized – everything has a label and artists are expected to follow that label. There were fewer restrictions then and there were no rules. It was a magical era of music.”

For further information and tickets to the show, click here.

Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music, the arts and more for What'sUpNewp. He is also a contributor to Providence Monthly, SO RI, Hey Rhody and The Bay magazines.
Ken DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse," a roots/folk/rock radio show every Tuesday, 6-9 PM on WRIU 90.3 FM. He is a former educator in the Scituate, RI school system where he taught Social Studies for over 30 years.
Ken is presently on the board of the Rhode Island Folk Festival and Newport Live (formerly Common Fence Music), a non-profit that brings diverse musical acts to the Newport area.