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|Read about Rasin’ Cain in the Cleveland Plain Dealer
feature, “Nightlife” ...
You won't hear "The Electric Slide" blaring from Skip Roberts' radio.
It isn't that he hates the song. It's just that he doesn't have to actually hear it to hear it -- or see it.
The wedding reception standard is burned into his memory so deeply that its mere mention spurs flashbacks of line dancers in satin gowns and sweaty tuxes partying on dance floors, woohoo style.
Not just one, two or three flashbacks. Hundreds.
Roberts, you see, has participated in more weddings than Elizabeth Taylor, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Larry King -- combined.
Since 1977, his seven-piece outfit, Raisin' Cain -- Roberts, guitar; Sue Finnegan, vocals; Dave Niksa, bass; George Haley, drums; Frank Cosenza, trumpet; Brian Maskow, sax; Jim McShane, keyboards -- has been one of the area's busiest wedding bands. It's also one of the longest-running acts of any variety.
Yet you would hardly know it if you weren't a regular in the reception-hall underground. Wedding bands, after all, are the breed music critics ignore, original bands disdain and groupies, well, don't even notice.
|Bride, Merideth Barna, leads reception revelers as Raisin' Cain keeps the beat at Fairlwan Country Club in Akron.|
But, boy, when they belt out "Shout!" at the end of the night . . . the bridal party goes bonkers! That was the scene at last month's gig at the Key Club in the Cleveland Marriott Downtown at Key Center.
In the midnight hour, Raisin' Cain played, uh, well, yeah, "In the Midnight Hour." The dance floor was empty, but you wouldn't know it looking at the singer. Finnegan's smile, hip shake and enthusiasm highlighted the wedding band credo: "Professionalism uber alles."
It was infectious. By the time the band turned the beat into a disco medley, four barefoot, partied-out young women hit the floor, cocktails and beer bottles in hand, for a "Last Dance," not to mention a "Disco Inferno."
Before you could say "dirty feet," the gang of four grew into a mob of partyers, waving like crazy, jumping and doing the "Shout!" -- something right out of "Wedding Crashers."
"That's the great thing about that song," Roberts says. "It brings everyone onto the dance floor, because you can just flap your hands in the air and yell, 'Shout.' "
Playing in a wedding band isn't just a matter of memorizing songs. It requires a basic mix of psychology and politics Roberts learned decades ago.
"Now I do weddings," he says. "But I've been playing for years."
No doubt. The Valley Forge grad, 56, got his start with Cain bassist Niksa way back in 1966.
|Raisin' Cain singer, Sue Finnegan pumps up the guests at Fairlawn Country Club in Akron as the other band members kick out the jams.|
"We'd play clubs, fairs, any place," says Roberts. "At one point we dreamed of hitting it big writing our own songs."
The dream eluded them. But Roberts and Niksa learned something more lucrative than being struggling artists: Give the people what they want.
"You study the crowd and watch them react," says Roberts. "It's the opposite of playing originals. In a wedding band, you're not there to satisfy yourself. You satisfy the people."
All of them, says Niksa.
"Weddings bring together so many different kinds," says Niksa, 56. "You have to play politician to make everyone happy."
Raisin' Cain's song list reads like a congressional bill padded with enough goodies to attract an overwhelming majority vote. It's a schizophrenic mix of Outkast, Christina Aguilera, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Frank Sinatra, Grand Funk Railroad, Norah Jones, Etta James, disco, Motown, swing, Italian folk, German singalongs, Polish polkas, even heavy metal.
"Some nights people say, 'You guys wanna rock it up a bit?' " Roberts says. "We'll throw out some AC/DC, but we don't really crank it up."
That versatility convinced Meredith and Jim Barna to book Raisin' Cain at their wedding last week at Fairlawn Country Club in Akron.
|Line dances? Jungle boogies? Conga lines? Disco fever? Lovey-dovey slow dances? When Raisin' Cain plays, all kinds of wedding mayhem breaks out.|
"I wanted a band with a strong female singer that played different kinds of music," Meredith Barna says. "Their Web site was impressive, too."
A band's production values have to be impressive in the era of the DJ, says Roberts, who also runs an entertainment agency in Strongsville.
"There are so many bands and DJs," he says. "You have to set yourself apart."
That's not to say he hates DJs - unlike so many musicians who see turntablists as a cheap and evil alternative. Whereas wedding bands charge anywhere from $1,000 to $4,500, DJs can be had for $500 to $1,500.
"The rise in DJs has less to do with money than increasingly varied tastes," says Roberts. "It's easier to find a DJ who can play all kinds of music than finding a band to do it."
Raisin' Cain proved otherwise at the Fairlawn Country Club, plowing through a set so varied that it had young and old, male and female, conservative and wild partying side-by-side.
Even the bartender was impressed.
"I prefer Iggy and the Stooges and Jimi Hendrix to wedding bands," says Dan Brady, of Cuyahoga Falls. "But I must say, out of the hundreds of wedding bands I've seen, these guys are amazing."
By the time they kicked into "The Electric Slide," guests swarmed the floor and started moving in an impeccable line- dancing unit - like ants that instinctively work together to transport crumbs to their hill.
Roberts strummed away, looked into the crowd, smiled and grooved. Whether he actually enjoyed playing the song for the nth time was irrelevant.
He's a professional.