Newton County-based Drive Time includes, bottom row from left, Micah McKibben, Christon Varner- Halback, middle row from left, Stephon Wilson, April Allen, top row from left, Charles Harris, Jarius Hardge, Scott Lansburg, Johnny Hamby, Pete Hall, Jon Lansburg and Mack McKibben. (Special Photo)
With some 40 years as a professional musician, pianist Mack McKibben has played in his share of duos, trios and bigger bands, and he’s also had untold solo performances.
But rarely has McKibben been as enthused as he is with his latest group, an 11-member corporate and show band called Drive Time.
The label may be familiar, as McKibben has utilized the Drive Time sobriquet with various collaborators for some 20 years, but the package is now quite different, as the East Metro native (who moved to Covington from Social Circle when he was 10 years old) has assembled a versatile big band that can liven things up in any type of venue.
“We put together this band in the last 15 months,” McKibben said. “We’re 11 strong right now… We’ve been out there two or three months and it’s really an incredible band.”
Drive Time will showcase its vocalists, horns and rhythm section at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 13, the final show in the Arts Association of Newton County’s 2nd Friday Summer Concert Series.
McKibben, who owns and operates McKibben’s Music on the Covington Square, said there were several reasons why he decided to roll out the red carpet for a bigger ensemble.
“I’ve worked off and on all my life with corporate bands and big show bands and I enjoyed that, but usually I was hired as a sideman,” he said. “I just decided I wanted to do this, and one of the things that prompted me was my son, Micah. He works at the store with me and convinced me to do something new. Also, I was playing four and five nights a week in Atlanta and it gets a little old after 35 years.”
The family connections are strong in Drive Time. Micah McKibben is one of three lead vocalists in the group, and Mack McKibbon’s nephew Pete Hall plays trumpet. Also, bassist Scott Lansburg (who teaches at McKibben’s Music) is joined by his son, guitarist Jon Lansburg, in Drive Time’s rhythm section.
Other band members include lead vocalists April Allen and Christon Varner-Halback, guitarist Johnny Hamby, drummer Jairus Hardage and a horn section consisting of Hall, Stephon Williams (trombone) and Charles Harris (saxophone).
McKibben pointed out that every member of the band calls Newton County home.
“Everybody in the band is from Covington — every single one of them,” he said.
“I didn’t want to go outside the area for several reasons. It’s easier to get them all together for rehearsals without having to drive so far. It also takes a big burden off a bandleader because we rehearse two and sometimes three nights a week. It takes a lot to put something together of that magnitude. It’s got to be well-rehearsed and well-thought out.”
McKibben, who has performed with the likes of the Tams, Dennis Yost and Percy Sledge in his long career, was particularly enthused about the inclusion of Williams in the band, adding that the trombonist spent nearly 30 years with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and retired to Covington.
“I picked out guys who play well but also folks who have character and integrity — that’s the way I’ve always been,” he said. “These people are about the music and satisfying the customers we play for.”
Now that the band — whose musical style encompasses pop, rock, soul, R&B, country, jazz and standards — is hitting its musical stride, McKibben said Drive Time is already booked well into 2014 and will work extensively up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
One of the first shows the new Drive Time played came a year ago on the Square, and McKibben is happy to play close to home, regardless of the date.
“It’s a Friday the 13th,” McKibben quipped. “It’s going to be something the group is really looking forward to — it’s great to be able to play for the hometown folks and your families. That’s always fun. We’ve got a really good, diverse show lined up. We’ll do anything from Frank Sinatra to Beyonce`.”
For more information about Drive Time, visit www.drivetimeband.com.
Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens, Ga. To contact him, email email@example.com.