The Appalachian Fair in Gray, TN is a regional festival that always reminds me of the end of summer. After school starts each year and in the middle of ‘Dog Days,’ the lights, sounds and smells of the fair recall great memories of my youth and life in the Tri-Cities.

The fair attracts great entertainment too and this year, my memory of the fair and what music means as a performer was forever changed.

This past week, I received a call from Joe Hoskins. Joe plays guitar and sings and we have shared many musical experiences over the years. He called to tell me that Frank Maffei, a member of the band ‘Danny and The Juniors,’ needed a guitarist, keyboardist and drummer for a performance at the fair in three days.

Frank had contacted a local recording studio on the Internet. This networking led to his offer to play the stage with their band on Saturday night. They had been performing for over 45 years, based in ‘Philly’ and wrote the classic fifties songs which included ‘At The Hop,’ ‘Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay,’ ‘Twistin USA’ and ‘The Pony Express.’ They’ve appeared on American Bandstand fifty times and traveled millions of miles and performed for millions of people.

I met Frank for the first time Saturday afternoon on the main stage at the fairgrounds. At 61, he’s a laid back guy with a far-away look and he was calm, considering the fact we were getting ready to perform with him in a few hours.

Joe, Chris Simmons, band director for Mountain City High School and myself were the only live musicians for the evening. Frank had 90 minutes of charts ready for us and he explained on the phone, this was an easy gig. He’s learned how to arrange the bands music, so that they can arrive in a town like Gray, plug in a digital tape, add few local musicians and perform at a fraction of the cost of touring a band on a bus.

At the sound check, we met Frank’s brother Bobby and lead singer, Joe Terranova. We rehearsed segments of their show that included their 50’s classics plus Elvis, Paul Anka, Dean Martin, Chubby Checker and many more straight from the ‘Happy Days’ jukebox. I was surprised at how easy it all fell together.

The highlight for me was the fact that I can share the story of playing the Appalachian Fair stage. It’s not a significant event. It was race night and closing night for the fair too and years had passed for ‘Danny and The Juniors,’ many people didn’t realize what was happening on this country stage.

Just before the show, we had a chance to relax and talk to Frank about the band. We asked a question that’s asked often- ‘Who’s Danny?’ After all, we never met him during the introductions.

It didn’t take long for him to deliver a soulful story about Danny Rapp, one of the founders of the group who shot himself in 1983 at a motel in Arizona. Even though the story is still told 20 years later, we could tell that this was tough one to swallow. Danny was instrumental in the band’s success and was robbed of his later years by his addiction to alcohol.

As I watched a few hundred people gather in the audience that night from backstage, I couldn’t help but wonder why these three guys still cross the country in a new white Cadillac, when many their age are retiring. After all, they had no roadies, no band and seemed to have it scaled down better than anyone I’ve met; yet they still seemed like gypsies. Life on the road as a musician is not an easy career path.

When Frank, Bobby and Joe rushed on to the stage in their matching crimson coats and black slacks, I saw something as a musician that I’ll always remember.

Danny and the Juniors have been performing for 45 years. They’re good. Even though the crowd was small for this country fair, these performers were truly amazing and energized by the magic from the stage. They may have been in their sixties, but their harmonies, humor and above all, their class made me realize that the stage can not only turn back time, but it can make time stand still.

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