Review: Billy McGuigan and Omaha Symphony take a spin through the ’60s

Billy McGuigan

“There is ... a time for every purpose under heaven,” or so the song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” exclaimed when it was recorded in 1965, perhaps before the decade reached the climax of its infamous tension. Much like this hit by the Byrds illustrates, even when things seem to be at their worst there is still “a time to dance.”

So naturally the 1960s is also remembered for its tremendous music and at the Holland Center on Saturday night, Billy McGuigan and the Omaha Symphony presented some of the era’s most exciting tunes.

The ensemble programming of the concert was an accomplishment of its own. Under the baton of principal pops conductor Ernest Richardson, the orchestra featured an eclectic array from its arsenal and collaborated seamlessly with the rock band of McGuigan brothers and colleagues.

One thing the ’60s probably isn’t remembered for often is orchestral flute solos, but as it turns out there are some pretty remarkable ones. “ Light My Fire” by the Doors, “California Dreamin’ ” by the Mamas and the Papas and “Walk Away Renee” by the Left Banke were all in the program and they all had electrifying phrases. The Omaha Symphony’s principal flautist Maria Harding and guest Amy Morris played them delightfully. It’s true that a few of those solos were originally written for a jazz organ or a synthesizer instead of a flute, but the audience was still thrilled.

Matthew and Ryan McGuigan were impressive and multitalented as ever. Each of them sang, and Ryan McGuigan spent a large chunk of the evening on guitar.

Adam Stoltenberg was solid as a rock on the drums. He made the huge collaboration seem easy.

Billy McGuigan’s love for the music he selected was heartwarming. In addition to the excellent voice and vibrating personality he brought to the stage, Billy McGuigan did a fun job of peppering the sets with trivia and nostalgia.

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I had forgotten that the band the Wrecking Crew recorded not only several hits of their own, but also provided the tracks for many other chart-topping bands such as the Mamas and the Papas, the Monkees and the Grass Roots, all bands who had songs on the evening’s set list. Learning that Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” was actually written by Bob Dylan was a revelation indeed.

When “Watchtower” was performed, a standing ovation was sneaked in midset for guitarist Max Meyer. Meyer played incredibly on a few favorites including “Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobbie Gentry, “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane and “Wichita Lineman” by none other than the prolific the Wrecking Crew.

Omaha audiences seemed to enjoy that the band was homegrown, all of its members having grown up in Omaha, except Stoltenberg, who hails from Grand Island.

Tara Vaughan was magnificent. From Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” to Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walkin’ ” and “Different Drum” by the Stone Poneys, she shifted from style to style with ease and a unique beauty.

The show ended with two encores: “Hang on Sloopy” by the McCoys and “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, and the audience provided its fourth standing ovation of the night.

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