Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: The Merry Pranksters, 1,000 Sundays and just keep keepin’ on

May 23, 2006 at 7:06 pm

There is an old-time phrase: “I haven’t seen you in a month of Sundays.” The saying is used to describe a long time, literally 30 weeks. Single-handedly, the Merry Pranksters have rendered this phrase obsolete. This Sunday, the Pranksters will be appearing at Longshots Tavern and celebrating their 1,000th consecutive Sunday night show. For the non-math whizzes out there, that’s almost 20 straight years of consistently performing every Sunday night without any sort of break or vacation. This is especially impressive considering the various changes that have occurred during this extensive stretch: The band has changed line-ups a few times and has moved their regular Sunday show from one local bar to another, starting out at Jockamo’s and moving on to Maier’s Tavern and Gerstle’s Place before settling at their current home at Longshots Tavern. No matter what building they move to, the Pranksters’ effort to religiously play a show every Sunday night has led fans to another turn of phrase: They refer to the Sunday evening Pranksters’ show as “going to church on Sunday.”

The Pranksters have a particularly unconventional band arrangement, which guitarist/vocalist R.D. Miller hypothesizes may be the reason the band has stayed together for so many years. They started out as an acoustic trio, and remain a trio during regular weeknight performances, but during the weekend, they appear in a larger capacity that varies each night in the way a neighborhood baseball team’s line-up changes. The two band regulars are guitarist/vocalist Tom Browning and drummer/vocalist Dave Young. Other members include Miller, bassists Ed Snead and Rico Thomas, percussionist Rick Ennis, and the most recent member, keyboardist Woody Woodmansee, who was, as Miller pointed out, about 5 years old when the Pranksters began their Sunday night performance streak. Shows are so improvised and laid back that as I talked to Miller last Sunday an hour before show time, he wasn’t even sure who would be playing that night.

Like the informal nature of the line-up, the Pranksters hold a similar ethic when it comes to learning material. Over the years, the band has amassed a songbook containing more than 400 covers and a few originals that they sneak into the set every now and then. Each song is learned with the same simple formula: members listen to the song on their own time, chord sheets are passed out before the show and then the players literally learn the song live on stage, in front of their audience.

Although some more “serious” musicians might not agree with the Pranksters’ methods, no one can possibly deny the success that they’ve experienced. Just the fact that they’ve stayed together as a band for as long as they have speaks volumes about the people involved and the loose, pick-up band format they employ.

Additionally, as the band has moved from bar to bar, the fans have followed. Many fans have grown old listening to the Pranksters perform around Louisville, and although many move on to busy lives and don’t necessarily come to every performance anymore, most of them still keep an eye on the band’s activities and check in on them occasionally. Plus, as older fans move on, Miller points out that new, younger fans (some of whom are children of original fans) come in to fill their seats. The Pranksters have also developed quite a following among college-age crowds.

The Pranksters may have honed their musical chops on mainly Grateful Dead songs, but over time they’ve developed an extensive range of Beatles covers as well. So much so that they were invited to play last year’s Abbey Road on the River, and were subsequently invited to come back for this year’s festival. Miller explained that their performance, despite their lack of mop-top wigs and Beatle boots, was such a hit because the Pranksters weren’t afraid to break out some Beatles’ rarities, such as “Old Brown Shoe” and “Hey Bulldog.” As Miller explained, “To a Beatles fan, there is no obscure Beatles’ song.”

Though you can catch the Pranksters playing several times a week around the Louisville area, this weekend will contain two performances for the Louisville music history books. Catch them performing their own unique brand of Beatles covers in a sea of She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, or come on Sunday and celebrate with the band this weird, mystical musical milestone.

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