Lead singer Doug Gray feels sure he's played in the city before, but the 61-year-old frontman doesn't remember things like he used to. The band plays 100 dates every year, often at private parties and aboard classic rock-themed cruises.
More than three decades after the Spartanburg founding, these aging rockers still draw audiences — some dotted with the grandchildren of original fans from the 1970s.
“Marshall Tucker Band started because we wanted to have enough money to drink a beer on the weekend,” Gray, 61, explained in an interview from his Spartanburg home. “We went through the death of Tommy, and then Toy, now George a year or so ago. It's been devastating to lose those guys. I just believe we started this thing and there's no end to it.”
Organizers expect a bigger turnout for the second of two paid downtown concerts this summer at the newly renovated Old Town Amphitheater. An improvement shouldn't be difficult — the last one drew fewer than 100 people.
Country act Little Texas inaugurated the venue in May with a 90-minute set that made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in occupied seats. The venue holds 800 folding chairs with standing room in the back for 200 guests.
“I just think we didn't have as much publicity time before that one,” said downtown events manager Candy Randall. “People still didn't know what we were doing. We've had a lot more promotion time for this one.”
More than 500 reserved tickets have been sold to fans from as far as Georgia and New York, Randall said. A busload of 60 people was making plans to drive in from Spartanburg.
The date of the band's last visit to Rock Hill has become a source of mystery. Musician Butch Oneppo of classic rock group The Oneppo Brothers has followed the local music scene since the 1960s.
“Before they were Marshall Tucker, they were the Toy Factory,” Oneppo said. “They used to play at a bar in Lancaster called the Cellar Lounge. I can't recall any (visits) in Rock Hill. I'm sure they did.”
Venue gains foothold
Saturday's show carries a challenge because ticket prices — $28 for general admission and $38 for reserved — are steep compared to other local shows.
Randall said she took advice from the band's promoters in setting prices.
She also looked at prices from Marshall Tucker's past shows at the Neighborhood Theater in Charlotte.
Radio ads on classic rock stations 95.7 “The Ride” and 99.7 “The Fox” took aim at music fans who remember the band's glory days.
Of the six original members, only Gray remains. The newer guys know how to play favorites “Heard it in a Love Song,” “Can't You See” and “Fire on the Mountain (Lightning in the Air).”
“They went through some slower times in the '90s,” said publicist Ryan Jones. “Their crowd sizes have gone up. The Southern rock thing, it's just picking up again. It just took a while for their Southern rock to become classic rock.”
The concerts showcase the Old Town Amphitheater outside Rock Hill City Hall, where officials spent $75,000 last year to add risers, handrails and better lighting.
Those handrails might get some use from older fans at Saturday's show.
Local guitar and fiddle teacher Hoss Laney remembers seeing Marshall Tucker Band as a teenager in 1974 or 1975 at the old Charlotte Coliseum, when the group opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was his first concert.
“I haven't really listened to them much, as far as their new material,” said Laney, now 46. “I still love the old stuff.”
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