‘Foreverland’ eases down the road to Napa (Vallejo Times-Herald)
By Rich Freedman
Posted: 08/14/2011 01:00:21 AM PDT
There’s no Michael Jackson impersonator in ‘Foreverland,’ which boasts four vocalists and four horns in the band that peforms at the Uptown Theatre in Napa. (Courtesy Photo)
There was only one Michael Jackson and Morty Okin would be the first to say it. And that’s one reason why “Foreverland” is a 14-piece band with four vocalists and not some stale tribute band with a quasi-Jackson futilely attempting the late pop star’s moves.
“Sorry, but one person cannot cover his vocal range,” said Okin, the group’s manager and trumpet player.
It took four vocalists to equal one Jackson, but Okin said that’s the way it’s got to be.
“Our vocalists cover his full vocal range,” Okin said. “Michael had a four octave range, which is unbelievable. We definitely benefit having four singers.”
Oddly, perhaps uncomfortably, “Foreverland” was born at Bimbo’s in San Francisco five days before the star died June 25, 2009.
“It was very, very weird,” said Okin, who started the band with drummer Alex DeCarville, guitarist George Adelson “and two guys who are no longer in the band.”
It was going to be “Neverland,” but the Jackson family squashed that, claiming it had trademark rights to the word.
No big deal. “Foreverland” began, rehearsed four months, and did well out of the gate. Next up: A “Michael Jackson’s Birthday Bash” concert Aug. 27 at the Uptown Theatre in Napa.
“We’re pretty busy, though we can always be busier,” Okin said, with an eye on several East Coast gigs.
“We’re starting to get around,” he said.
It helps that the Oakland resident has long-time Bay Area music roots. When you know club managers and agents, gigs are easier to come by. Still, there’s that “Michael Jackson impersonator” stigma, Okin said.
“The phone call is when the selling begins,” he said of booking the band. “There’s a lot of cold calling, a lot of networking.”
“Foreverland” was actually a mere five-piece group at the beginning.
“We realized we couldn’t do it with just five,” Okin said.
So the band expanded. And the fans came out.
“I think because of all the rehearsing we do — we still rehearse every Tuesday — that we are a unique Michael Jackson band,” Okin said.
It’s obvious, he said, that with 14 members, “we’re not doing this for the money. That’s a lot of mouths to feed. We’re keeping his music alive.”
It helps that every band member likes the music, Okin said.
“If you don’t, it really becomes a job,” he said. “Some of the guys are such huge fans they know every aspect of Jackson’s life. It is the funnest band any of us has ever been in. Oddly, for 14 people and 14 personalities, we all get along pretty well.”
The weirdest thing, said Okin, is “Foreverland” has yet to have a negative reaction.
“I don’t think we’ve had any bad shows,” he said. “Even the ones with smaller crowds, people went crazy. With other bands, you’re certainly going to have your horrible shows. We haven’t, which is a testimony to Michael Jackson’s music.”
Many fans wear clothes with Jackson’s face, said Okin, and some are so emotional they cry.
“A lot have said it’s the next best thing to seeing Michael Jackson,” Okin said. “Some dress in full Michael regalia. It’s amazing.”
The band’s repertoire includes about 50 Jackson tunes “and we have a lot more material still to go,” Okin said, adding that Jackson’s music is forever, much like Elvis Presley’s.
“Without a doubt,” Okin said. “Maybe more. When you hear a Jackson song, even before the vocals, you know it’s a Jackson song.