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Students Rock Out with Legendary Drummer Max Weinberg

Posted March 21, 2011 | Bob Burford
regional feature Max Weinberg inside
The jam session underway

When legendary drummer Max Weinberg was booked for Kent State University at Stark's Featured Speaker Series, eager fans snapped up the tickets in record time, expecting to hear the popular percussionist talk about his life and career. But they might not have realized they would get a chance to see Weinberg perform a set of high-octane rock and roll with select group of Kent State music students.

Weinberg is one of the most high profile and recorded drummers in contemporary music. He has been with Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band since 1974 and served as the musical director for Conan O'Brien's TV shows for 17 years.

On Feb. 28, Weinberg and nine lucky and talented Kent State music students performed for an audience of more than 500 enthusiastic fans in The University Center's Timken Great Hall. Weinberg and the band performed a 40-minute set that included energetic versions of hits such as James Brown's "I Feel Good," Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" and Springsteen's "Dancing In the Dark."

The band included Kyle Richards and John Finley on guitars, Joe Farr on bass, Cameron Collier on trumpet, Andre Dennis on trombone, Christian Shoemaker on saxophone and Romulus Mihalteanu on keyboards, along with vocalists Todd Archambault and Mandy Dennis.

During the two-and-a-half hour afternoon rehearsal, Weinberg generously shared stories with the students about working with Springsteen, O'Brien, Billy Joel and others. At one point, he instructed bassist Farr to turn up his amplifier. "I bet no one has ever told you that before," Weinberg joked.

Farr hopes to have a career as a performing musician, but the Plain Township native is studying music technology in order to enhance his career options. He was thrilled at the chance to play with the music legend. "It feels amazing, really," Farr says. "He's such a great drummer in comparison to anybody else. He is the rock drummer."

As a partner in the band's rhythm section, Farr understands the special relationship between bass players and drummers. "When you play with a great drummer it just enhances the music," he says. "Especially as a bass player, you are locked in with him. It's the best feeling in the world."

Weinberg demonstrated a calm and genial demeanor while rehearsing with the group, but gave clear guidance when something needed to be changed. He offered plenty of encouragement to the attentive musicians as well. "It's going to be great," Weinberg said.

Archambault, a vocal performance major, was excited but not daunted by the prospect of singing with an artist of Weinberg's caliber. "I just live for it," Archambault says. "You put me in front of a microphone and it's done."

Shoemaker, an instrumental music education major who hopes to work as a high school band director, was excited about the opportunity. "It's something I was looking forward to ever since I was contacted about it," Shoemaker says. "It felt really comfortable up there. The fact that he is such a good drummer really helps things along."

The tenor saxophonist realized how fortunate he was. "You never really expect to get a phone call from one of your teachers asking you to play with Max Weinberg," Shoemaker says. "I replied, 'Do you mean the Bruce Springsteen and Conan O'Brien Max Weinberg?'"

As the rehearsal wrapped up, Weinberg praised the ensemble for their hard work. "You guys are ready for 'Late Night Akron' or 'Late Night Canton' if you don't want to go that far," Weinberg quipped.

After the evening performance, Weinberg talked about his musical journey, shared tales from his storied career and fielded questions from the rapt audience. He stressed the importance of arts education and commitment to craft.

"Since about 1986, I've performed with student groups in colleges, highs schools and even junior high schools," Weinberg says. "Today, with cutbacks in funding for arts programs, I find that it is particularly important for people who have been around a long time, as I have, to instruct the next generation that arts are vital."

Weinberg finds it extremely rewarding to perform with young students. "I get a tremendous charge out of it," he says. "I'm sure I get more out of it then they do, in a lot of ways. It's really a kick for me to see these young people rise to the occasion of playing music with someone they've never played with before."

Vocalist Dennis, who belted out stellar versions of Aretha Franklin's "Respect," Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" and Otis Redding's "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay," and was pleased with the group's performance. "We had a blast," Dennis said. "He was really great to work with." The Canton native is working toward a bachelor's degree in music education, with a goal of a career in music ministry.

For this ambitious group of Kent State students, playing with the man who keeps the beat for "The Boss" was definitely a night to remember.


For more information on Kent State University at Stark's Featured Speaker Series, visit www.stark.kent.edu/about/events/featuredspeakers/.