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Jesters keep rockin, 40 years later
Band with local roots opens The Arts Councils summer series
The Jesters open The Arts Council's Summer MusicFest on Friday.


A sampling of music from The Jesters.

Winning a talent show in 1964 set The Jesters on a musical journey that has lasted 44 years and shows no signs of slowing.

"We've seen a trend of our faithful fans' kids now coming to our dances," said Freddy Seagraves, the band's drummer and one of its original members.

Keyboardist Mike Haynes, who joined the Athens-based band in 1990, concurred. "This kind of music does span all generations, from really young kids up to people older than we are, and that's saying something."

The 11-member band, whose music focuses on classic tunes of the 1960s, is set to open The Arts Council's 2008 Smithgall Arts Center Summer MusicFest outdoor series on Friday.

Their show begins at 7 p.m. at The Arts Council's Smithgall Arts Center located at 331 Spring St. in Gainesville.

The band plays rhythm and blues, soul and beach music, and features an array of instruments, including a five-piece horn and woodwind section.

The first line-up, comprising high school band members and friends, featured five members.

"We enjoyed it and had so much fun with it, we kept that group together until 1967, when we added some more Athens guys," Seagraves said.

The Jesters recorded an album in 1968 featuring current rhythm and blues hits. They toured throughout the Southeast between 1967 and 1970 with many big-name music stars, including Marvin Gaye, The Platters, The Marvellettes, Jerry Butler, Patti LaBelle and Jackie Wilson.

They also played in Myrtle Beach, S.C., serving as a 10-piece house band.

"After we went through several years of doing the summertime deals in Myrtle Beach, we got on the college circuit, doing concerts and everything," Seagraves said.

The group disbanded in 1970 and reunited in 1982.

During that period, several of the members performed with other well-known artists with ties to rock royalty, including The Gregg Allman Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Sea Level.

Chuck Leavell, a keyboardist for Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, was a founding member of Sea Level.

After The Jesters reunited, the members had started on other careers but agreed to perform on a limited basis after an enthusiastic acceptance at local performances.

Other band members are Harold Williams, Bill McDonald, Scotty Piotrowski, Donny Whitehead, Tom Ryan, Davis Causey, Clarence Young, Billy Young and Steve Hartley. Ryan replaced Cleon Little, a bassist who played with the band from
1968 to 2004.

Haynes, who is retired from the state Department of Juvenile Justice, and Seagraves, a retired convenience store owner, are both Hall County residents. Both said they now perform about 14 to 15 concerts a year.

They said they haven't seen interest in their music wane, even among much younger audiences.

Seagraves said he noticed that when the group played at a wedding in Augusta last weekend.

"I was looking at everybody dancing and these kids were probably in their 18, 19, 20-year-old range, and they knew the words to all the songs," he said.

"It's like (the music played by the group is) making a complete cycle back around. ... I'm glad we still play the kind of music that folks still enjoy listening to, instead of something that just hits and dies away."