The Holdin’ Back Band, which began as a “music group” in 2013, is gearing up for another summer of free concerts of “audience-pleasing” music for all family audiences in townships, city centers, city fairs – wherever there is a city bandstand.
With a repertoire that ranges from “Darktown Strutters Ball” (1917) to Dua Lupa’s “Levitating” (2020), with lots of rock, pop, jazz and oldies music, especially 1960s music, Holdin’ concerts Back are sure enough to please most people. The shows also include patriotic music, songs and dance competitions. Bring a lawn chair. Some sites offer food and refreshments.
Twelve public appearances for 2022 will kick off June 30 with a 6:30 p.m. show at Oakham Center.
“Oakham is a new town for us,” said Craig Smith, co-founder of Holdin’ Back. The group’s appearance at the Sterling Fair on September 10 will also be a first. Other concerts on the route will take place at familiar venues such as the Holden Bandstand on August 14.
The band’s name is a bit of a pun since most of the members are from Holden and the band’s first gig was in the town. The band returns to Holden every year to be part of its summer series of bandstands.
But Holdin’ Back isn’t just a summer band these days. In fact, there’s really nothing to hold the band back as it’s busy all year round.
“It’s all year round, but summer is crazy,” Smith said. “We love it. It’s a good crowd and the cities keep us coming back because they love what we do.”
Appropriately for a family-oriented band, the summer schedule allows for a two-week break for band members to have summer vacations with their own respective families.
Holdin’ Back was founded by Smith (bass and rhythm guitars/keyboards) and Paul “Blakey” Blaquiere (lead and rhythm guitars/ukulele/vocals). Both are Worcester County music veterans and both hail from Holden. David Godzur of Holden served as the band’s drummer for a while before leaving. Emma Riffelmacher (vocals/rhythm guitar) from Holden and Joe Ostrenga (drums/percussion) from Sturbridge joined the band from 2016. Godzur returned to play drums on occasion, along with Phil Andrews from Clinton. Ostrenga was out of action for a while last year with COVID.
Speaking of the pandemic, Holdin’ Back had what Smith called a banner year in 2019 — the band was twice chosen as a 2019 finalist by Charter Cable TV’s WooTube video competition. But then, in 2020, the group was held back by COVID and “lost about 60% of our business,” Smith said.
“2021 has improved dramatically. People were going out,” before Omicron (the new COVID variant that dominated during the second half). Holdin’ Back did about 10 bandstand gigs, Smith said.
“This year is shaping up to be better than last year.”
In addition to Bandstand concerts, Holdin’ Back performs in venues such as retirement communities and assisted living facilities and at special private concerts. These shows were on hiatus for a while, but they are also coming back.
The public in retirement communities is particularly enthusiastic. After all, when Holdin’ Back plays The Beatles, that’s the music a lot of people grew up with. Paul McCartney just turned 80.
“We just did a set of four. They’re having a ball. They’re starting to dance,” Smith said of retirement communities.
These concerts can last until late fall and start again in the spring. In the middle of winter, Holdin’ Back is working on its set list for next year and the arrangements and harmonies.
“We’re already booked (for the year) by January 1,” Smith said.
Blaquière has over 25 years of band experience, and Smith’s bands have included Crimson Wine, the Tryp and Ravin’ Blue. Riffelmacher had moved to Holden around 2016 and is a classically trained singer and also sings jazz. She became involved with the Holden Bandstand Committee and let it be known that she was looking for a band to sing with.
She impressed Holdin’ Back with her vocal range, and the group’s repertoire now includes such vocal stars as “New York, New York” and “Mack the Knife”.
“She belts them and she belts them well,” Smith said.
Holdin’ Back tailors its setlist to the demographics of its audience.
It can range from jazz and swing (like “Chattanooga Choo Choo”) to Elvis, the Beach Boys and Doobie Brothers. There’s a Motown tribute and each show ends with a Beatles set.
“We’re focusing on more of the ’60s than we’ve ever been,” Smith said. “We try to hit every decade (from the 50s to today). We have a dance competition.” The latter includes “Louie, Louie”, originating in the 1950s, and “Levitating” from 2020.
Singing with the audience is an integral part of a Holdin’ Back show.
Band members work day jobs or are semi-retired. “We’re working,” Smith said. But he finds himself working with “group-related stuff more than anything. I do the bookings. It’s fun.”
Is Holdin’ Back a labor of love or a way to make money?
“Both,” Smith said. “It’s a labor of love and we make money.”
But not really much. Holdin’ Back doesn’t overload, Smith said.
“Generally a lot of that comes back in new equipment.” The sound system for outdoor shows is larger and different than for indoor shows, Smith noted.
Bandstand concerts are free to the public, but city cultural commissions or sponsorships from local merchants help pay for band appearances.
“Cultural commissions are great. Local business people – they’re really the ones who make things happen,” Smith said.
“Especially in these days of inflation and high costs of everything, area residents have the opportunity to attend a ‘free’ night of music for the whole family.”
The Holdin’ Back 2022 summer lineup is as follows. For more information, visit www.holdinbackband.com.
June 30th. Oakham Center Bandstand, 6:30-8 p.m.
July 2nd. Monument Park Bandstand, Gardner, 6-8 p.m. (rain date, July 6)
July 7. Sturbridge Bandstand, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
11 July. Sterling Bandstand, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
August 4. Oxford Bandstand, 6-8 p.m.
August 7. Southbridge Bandstand, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
August 9. Clinton Central Park, 6:30-8 p.m. (rain date Aug. 11)
August 10. Grafton Common, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
August 14. Holden Kiosk, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
August 18. Paxton Bandstand, 6-8 p.m.
21st of August. West Boylston Bandstand, 5-7 p.m.
September 10. Sterling Fair, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. (free admission)