Despite the Loss of Jack Knox, the Show Goes on
By Melanie Gray
Hampton Union, Friday, July 16, 2010
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]
HAMPTON BEACH -- Don MacNeill will never forget the first time he stepped on to the Seashell Stage in the summer of 1983.
"Have you ever been sitting somewhere or doing something where it's almost like a snapshot has happened? Everything slows down and you get an instant feeling of, 'This is the best thing that has ever happened,'" he says of his performance alongside his band The Continentals. "It was such an image of Americana. If Norman Rockwell were sitting here, this is what he would paint."
Everything was perfect for MacNeill: from the weather to the audience, from the people across the street to the sound of the band.
"We felt good about what we were doing," he says. "It's happened again since, but that was the first time. [It] feels so natural and good and happy."
In the three decades since The Continentals was formed, many changes have happened within the group, most notably the loss of lead vocalist Jack Knox in February.
"At first, we weren't definite about moving forward right away," says MacNeill. "But people came up to us at the calling hours and said, 'I think Jack would want you to continue if you want to,' so we decided it would be a good thing to keep going if we could."
Currently, vocalist Dave Ayotte, a friend of Knox's is performing with the group for nearly all of its summer dates.
"The feedback we've been getting has been positive," says MacNeill. "We're trying to extend Jack's legacy with the music we play."
Ayotte, who also plays the saxophone, flute and bongos, adds a new facet to the group, MacNeill says.
"It's not a replacement for Jack," he says. "It just adds another facet."
When the band first formed in 1971, members Jack Lamountain, Jack Knox and Ken Tenzar made up the group, but when several of the members wanted to try out different locations in the late 1970s, there was a personnel change.
MacNeill and Lamountain were performing together when Knox, who was performing in Provincetown, Mass., at the time, came in to see what they were all about.
"He came back and sat in with us, and we just clicked," says MacNeill. "It was sort of magic."
The group, MacNeill says, is like a cake. When the ingredients are separated, they don't taste good, but "When everything is put together in the right amount, you get a cake to die for."
The three played together for 10 years before Lamountain retired in 1987. Knox then brought in current members Jack Coleman, who plays both the keyboard and bass, and guitarist Mike Trolsen.
"It's always been a bone of contention," trying to identify the band by the type of music it plays, MacNeill says, and he credits the fact that the group doesn't stick to one genre of music for allowing the members to play together for so long.
"We didn't have time to get bored," he says.
The Continentals play a range of music, from classic rock and roll to Motown, from the Beach Boys to the Bee Gees. For the younger crowds, the band even pulls out the infamous Chicken Dance and Cotton Eyed Joe.
Though he says that he doesn't have a favorite type of music, MacNeill says that he loves music with a lot of harmony.
"When human voices blend, it just turns into its own instrument," he says.
For MacNeill, the best part of performing is watching people enjoy what the band does, and having a good time because the band is out there, doing what it does best: playing music.
The Continentals take the stage at Hampton Beach every Wednesday night before the fireworks from 7:30 p.m. - 9 p.m.
A compilation CD of Knox's music is still on sale and can be purchased at any of The Continentals' performances. All proceeds will go to the Knox Children Foundation for Knox's children, Brianna, 12, and Krysta, 11.