When: Doors open at 6 p.m. Aug. 19
Where: The Arts Council’s Smithgall Arts Center Lawn
How much: Adults, $20; seniors and students, $18; table for eight, $210
More info: 770-534-2787, www.theartscouncil.net
On Feb. 6, 1983, the British band Badfinger was performing in Brassy’s Night Club in Cocoa Beach, Fla.
By then, the band had a few worldwide hits under its belt; tickets were $5. Opening for Badfinger that Sunday night was Riverstreet, a Gainesville-based classic rock group that banged out covers of Heart, Led Zeppelin and others as it toured the South.
Throughout their two-decade career, the members of Riverstreet — the Young brothers, Mike Terrell, Larry Vandiver, David Murray, Mike Bennett and Mack Ashley — performed on the same stages as Gregg Allman, Ray Charles, Badfinger, Guess Who and Steppenwolf.
Those days of rubbing shoulders with rock stars, cranking out tunes to college crowds at Georgia, Auburn, Alabama and other universities, long nights driving club to club from Florida to Louisiana to Georgia and back, lugging their vehicle-sized sound system with them — it all came bubbling up to the surface this month for Dwayne Young, Riverstreet’s bassist, because of a poster.
Young, 68, was poking around Old Clarkesville Mill Antique Shop looking for a new kitchen table when he noticed a faded Brassy’s poster.
“They were just hung up in a booth,” Dwayne said in his home near Murrayville on Wednesday. “I said, ‘Gosh, I used to play there.’ I just started thumbing through them, and I saw we played with everybody there, and then I saw our name: Riverstreet.”
The bassist was transported back to the 1970s and 1980s, when the high demand of cover bands that could play hit songs allowed Riverstreet to make a living rolling around the South punching out tunes.
He and his twin brother, rhythm guitarist Dean Young, were raised in Murrayville by musically inclined parents who encouraged the boys to play from an early age.
“I was raised up on old-time rock and roll,” Dean said.
They played in a few bands during their formative years before kicking off Riverstreet in 1969 after high school with three other musicians in Gainesville.
Their first professional gig was in Florida, where they would spend much of their time as a band, moving between Panama City, Jacksonville, Daytona, Miami and Brassy’s in Cocoa Beach.
“We sort of spoiled that place,” Dwayne said of Brassy’s. “We come in one time, and everybody there was sort of a southern rock and roll type crowd, and we come down there swingin,’ And we was a hit down there. We had a real good following down there.”
Riverstreet’s setlist, both in their heyday and today, includes Journey, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, .38 Special, John Mellencamp, Molly Hatchet, Styx, the Allman Brothers and a slew of other classic rock bands.
“We did clubs, mainly. Just kind of small clubs, and then it escalated,” Dean said. “We got a couple of booking agents that got ahold of us, and then we started doing a bigger circuit.”
Their biggest show was at the Orlando Jazz Festival in the 1980s, where they played with Ray Charles and a number of other big-time jazz and rock bands in front of a crowd of almost 20,000 people.
“You know you’ve done at least something right all the years you’ve been playing when you walk up and the butterflies start going,” Dwayne said. “When we first started playing I was just sort of scared because I’ve never witnessed nothing like that. As time goes, it wasn’t nothing.
“But when you step up the steps and see 18,000 people staring at you, you get the butterflies.”
Their penchant for crushing cover songs took them performing in college towns. They played parties and clubs throughout the South, but the brothers Young said their favorite venues were in Auburn.
Three or four fraternities would go in together to hire the band, usually at a bar called the Fiji Islands.
“We did it two or three years in a row,” Dean said. “They would line the whole arena we were playing with bamboo.”
The college kids would dig a pit outside and line it with plastic, making a giant slide and a whole lot of mess.
“Those guys, they were real wild,” Dwayne said.
But the brothers weren’t — they avoided the drugs and partying that took or shortened the lives of an entire generation of musicians when Riverstreet was running around the South.
In the 1980s, they were too busy for partying.
“You played three nights in Fort Lauderdale and the next night you might be Charleston, South Carolina,” Dwayne said, and Dean recalled playing the old Atlanta Underground and hitting a show in Jackson, Mississippi, the next night.
Even though they were busy, the money was good.
Riverstreet drummer and singer Mike Terrell said his time with the band put him through college.
But after the Orlando Jazz Festival and their marathon run playing shows throughout the South, the band had enough.
“We played 31 straight nights in Florida,” Dwayne said. “That will make you frustrated — it’s just like a full-time job overnight. You get tired; you get burnt out.”
And so in the mid-1980s, they hung it up. Dwayne started a small business repairing high-end appliances and Dean started working in insurance. Terrell worked in advertising, banking and now works as a substitute teacher.
Most of them started families. As individuals, they performed with different groups in their spare time for two decades until 2012, when the Young brothers reunited with the rest of Riverstreet.
They performed their first concert for charity in 2012 at Brenau University. Terrell said on Thursday that they’ve played about a dozen large concerts since then.
“We had that at this 2012 thing, and it was just kind of a giant reunion,” Terrell said. “Back in the day, in the ‘70s and even into the ‘80s, we played for everybody’s prom within 30 counties, and of course we were traveling at that time.”
The 2012 show was a refreshing moment for the band, Terrell said, as all of those former high school juniors and seniors heard about the performance and bought tickets.
“It was just really humbling and really satisfying to know that this thing was actually kind of important growing up,” he said. “And they’re still coming out.”
The crowd is due to come out again on Aug. 19, when Riverstreet will performed at the The Arts Council’s Summer MusicFest in Gainesville.
Their setlist for the event is a mix of lesser known songs that are a lot of fun to play and classic rock hitfest. They include “Tiny Dancer,” “Jessica,” “Brandy,” “Werewolves of London,” “Live and Let Die” and many more.
“We just kind of play what we like, and we hope everybody else likes it,” Terrell said.