Tennessee Backporch at Erie Playhouse for an anniversary show

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Playing the waiting game is nothing new to Tennessee back porch. Indeed, this is part of the origin story of the Erie Group.

“We did a four song audition for the Ground Round (restaurant on Upper Peach Street). They asked if we could do four hours and we said yes, but we mention,” band member Chris Moore said.

“We kind of said we’re unavailable for a month because we have other commitments,” Bob Martin said, adding that the band only knew four songs and had no sound system.

Thus, Julie Moore said, “We met every night at Chris’s for a month and learned four hours of material.”

That was 42 years ago and they haven’t stopped since. When a 40th anniversary concert scheduled for April 2020 was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the band said the show was to go on, albeit after a two-year wait.

And so it will be, Friday and Saturday at the Erie Playhouse, where the band members met at shows and formed Tennessee Backporch and will perform “42 Years on the Porch” this weekend.

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Several styles for a group

Tennessee Backporch has been so ubiquitous on the Erie scene that it’s easy to take them for granted. Ever since Chris and Julie Moore, who are married, Martin and founding member Paul Moore, who is Chris Moore’s brother, played that initial gig at the Ground Round on Leap Day 1980, the band has played through generations of marriages, dances, parties and chic evenings. Fundraising events. They also gave more than 100 performances in Erie, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Hershey of the musical “Pump Boys and Dinettes”. A highlight in the band’s history was their concerts at the opening of the Warner Theater for country music legends Marty Robbins and Ray Stevens.

The original members of Tennessee Backporch are shown with country music legend Marty Robbins, second from right, in this undated photo.  The Erie County group consisting of, back from left, Julie Moore, Bob Martin and Chris Moore and, front, Paul Moore, opened for Robbins at Erie's Warner Theatre.

The Warners are still around, but most of the venues they played in their early years – Forest Hills Athletic Club, the Evergreen Hotel, Liberty Draft House, French Quarters and the Ground Round – are long gone. Yet the group continues to forge ahead, propelled by an effortless blend of musical styles that began in bluegrass and eventually wandered into nearly every corner of American popular song.

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“Thanks to Julie, we did a lot of material from Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt,” Martin said. “But we sort of thought of ourselves as a show band. Paul’s strength was to read an audience and put a lot of humor into it, and so it was more than music.

Sometimes it was much more.

“For a show at Sherlock’s house in 1984 maybe, Chris thought it would be really cool to recreate the Simon and Garfunkel gig where they sang “A Heart in New York”, and Central Park shone with sparklers,” Martin recalled. “Before we started the song, we went around and lit a bunch of sparklers stuck in the wooden rails. When they ignited, the whole building filled with smoke and had to be evacuated.

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Success in polished harmonies

The comedy bass was an endearing part of a Tennessee Backporch show, but it was another element that became the band’s signature and led to Tennessee Backporch’s popularity at Sherlock’s, an Erie club best known for his rock and metal acts.

“We would go on and all the tables would be filled,” Chris Moore said. “We were doing a song like ‘Operator’ and people were starting to sit on what was supposed to be the dance floor and start clapping and clapping. I couldn’t even watch them because I didn’t think we were so good.

Over its more than 40 years, Tennessee Backporch has varied in numbers and musicians.  In this undated photo, left to right, Julie Moore, Chris Moore, Calvin Bowers, John Caruso, Joe Miller, Tom O'Camb, Mark Dressler and Bethany Dressler.

“It was the four-part harmony, which a lot of the bands that played Sherlock’s didn’t do,” Martin said. “A lot of people (over there) were like, ‘We love your harmonies. “”

This kind of vocal blending is born in familiarity and polished over time. However, no group reaches middle age without some personnel changes. Paul Moore left and came back, only to start again and Martin, faced with a busy schedule at the Playhouse, reluctantly retired after 14 years.

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Some notable musicians have signed on, such as bassists Paul Goll and Derf Hopsecger, guitarist Tim McLaughlin and, when a drummer was needed, Playhouse pit band mainstay Jim Griffey. The band’s constant workload was always an attraction, but it wasn’t the only one.

“We tried to treat everyone the same,” Chris Moore said. “So the longevity (of the band) is down to the fact that Julie and I love it. It became a necessity when we had our children; we needed something successful. But now it’s just for pleasure.

Original Tennessee Backporch members Julie Moore, center, and Chris Moore, second from right, have been joined in the band by various other musicians over the years, including, from left, Tom O'Camb, John Caruso and Calvin Bowers.

Today the band is a quintet of Julie and Chris Moore, guitarist Tom O’Camb and the rhythm section of bassist Jack Campbell and drummer John Caruso which is occasionally augmented by the horn section of Joe Miller and Bethany and Mark Dressler.

Perhaps inevitably for a company that’s as much family as it is a band, the version of Tennessee Backporch that will be playing the anniversary show will also be something of a family band. Becca Keim will join her parents, Julie and Chris Moore, on backing vocals and John O’Camb, Tom O’Camb’s son, will play keyboards on a few numbers. All four original members will appear, along with first member Bill Tuberson, who will play pedal steel guitar.

The Tennessee Backporch members met at shows at the Erie Playhouse.  Original members, from left, Julie Moore and Chris Moore and, second from right, Bob Martin, are shown in this undated photo with member Jim Griffey and Tim McLaughlin, right, and Ann B. Davis during a Playhouse event.  Davis is an Erie Playhouse alumnus who went on to

Like most bands these days, Tennessee Backporch plays a more limited schedule of live dates. But Chris and Julie Moore aren’t slowing down anytime soon. They have made a name for themselves on the radio where their show “Next to You” can be heard weekly on Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and repeated on Sundays from midnight to 2 a.m. on WQLN-FM.

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“We advocate local musicians, featuring local people and people who grew up in Erie and maybe moved on,” Julie Moore said. “We feature them in interviews and their songs. We also have the original Tennessee Backporch on every show, starting in the second hour, and we usually do a skit or quiz and have fun with the original members, Bob and Paul.

Having fun is essential to the Tennessee Backporch formula, but how long will the group stay together?

The members of Tennessee Backporch are shown in this undated photo with Ray Stevens, third from right, for whom the Erie band warmed up at the Warner Theatre.  Tennessee Backporch members are, left to right, Jim Griffey, Chris Moore, Julie Moore, Joe Zalik and Tim McLaughlin.

“We were very lucky, but I think we will ride the wave until it goes down,” said Julie Moore. “I’m going to be terribly depressed when it happens, but we’re just going to keep riding the wave.”

“We’re planning the 60th reunion show,” Chris Moore said with a laugh.

If you are going to …

Tennessee Backporch will perform their anniversary celebration on July 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Erie Playhouse, 13 W. 10th St. Former members will be back to perform with the variety group. Tickets are $21.70 plus fees. Call 814-454-2852 or visit erieplayhouse.org/events/tennessee-backporch-40-years-on-the-backporch for more information and tickets.

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