The 34th Annual Big Band Concert is ready to bring jazz and fun times to Portsmouth again, as players prepare to give another loud and joyous evening this September.
The evening is being planned by husband and wife power couple Joyce and Gary Billups, who have been at it since the start.
Wife Joyce Billups says that music has been a major part of her life since she has been married to a professional musician.
“I’ve been exposed to big band jazz since I’ve been married and before,” Joyce said. “I think the music is enjoyable and brings back a lot of memories for people, especially senior people, because it is what they heard when they were growing up.”
While music is part of her love language, Joyce said that she really enjoys promoting the evening.
“We enjoy promoting the concert, because all of the musicians are professional musicians from the tri-state and they care about the music,” Joyce explained.
Joyce continued to say that the talent that takes the stage is bewildering.
“At one time, we sat and tried to figure out how many years everyone had been playing. It is an 18-piece band, and we came up with over 700 or 800 years of talent.”
According to husband Gary Billups, most musicians come from the tri-state, while some come from Indiana as well.
“These players are all professionals, whether they are teachers or performers,” Gary said.
Gary will be serving as band director and he will also be playing tenor sax. His musical roots go deep and he also plays piano. His history in music goes back to the 60’s and he took his first music lesson from the sisters at Holy Redeemer. He laughed at being asked about his history in big band music, saying he has been a musician his whole life.
“Considering I am living here, I have been pretty successful,” Gary said. “I taught overseas and gave workshops in Hong Kong. I also have music that is all over the internet from Spotify to Amazon and YouTube. There are about 50 different places my music can be found.”
Gary says that he plays several times a week and travels all over Appalachia and places like Columbus to play his music regularly.
Mr. Billups said that he often looks forward to this particular concert, however.
“It is fun; it is kind of like a reunion when we all get back together,” Gary claimed.
The concert remains free and open to the public.
When asked why the concert remains free to the public, Joyce said the answer is simple, “We love this type of music. The musicians would travel twice as far to perform something like this. They cannot wait for this opportunity. So, we do our best to help.”
According to Joyce, the Greenup County Arts Council Extension helps organize the funding that pays the musicians and donations can be made to support the concert.
The event remains a big hit for music fans in the area. Portsmouth Wind Symphony President and local musician Trent Williams frequently comments on the success of the event.
“I’ve many times told friends that the Annual Big Band Reunion is my favorite musical event in our area. I love big band music and look forward each year to going to Tracy Park to see this fantastic group of musicians play some of the best music ever written,” Williams said. “With the players Gary Billups brings in from the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, Morehead State University, and some of the top musicians from southern Ohio, Ashland, and Huntington, it can’t help but be a fabulous performance. Add to that to the smooth jazz vocals of Anne Stephens, and it’s a show you just can’t miss. It’s the best show in town!”
The Big Band Concert will sound off on Sunday, September 4 at 7 p.m. at Tracy Park. Gary Billups will direct, Anne Stephens will serve as vocalist, and John Baker will serve as announcer. In case of rain, the concert will be held at American Legion Post # 471 at 950 Gallia Street.