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Shawn Ryan

More than a decade ago, J. Willoughby had a revelation. A thought about classical music was in his head when he realized that the baby boomer generation had its own classical music. Instead of Beethoven, Bach and Mozart, it had The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and the Eagles.

And the Black Jacket Symphony was born.

To date, they've performed more than 30 albums in their entirety — The Beatles, Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Tom Petty, Queen, Journey the list goes on and on.

The idea isn't just to be a standard tribute band that runs through a bunch of songs, but to treat the albums with the same respect that symphonies do with their pieces — note for note, nuance for nuance. Playing songs in the same order as they are on records, they break them down to their bare bones then rebuild them step-by-step. To say they sound like the LP is a disservice. They sound just like the LP, right down to the vocals and instrumentation.

Full disclosure here: I've been great friends with J. Willoughby for more than 20 years. I also write all the playbills about the albums that the Symphony has performed. Believe me, though, if I didn't think they were terrific, I would not write about them. Simple as that.

Their shows regularly sell out wherever they play and they are a huge draw in Chattanooga. So big, in fact, they played Journey's "Escape" on Riverbend's Coke Stage — and in this town, you don't get much bigger than that.

The band has two shows coming up on Saturday (5 and 9 p.m) at the Tivoli Theatre. They'll play the Eagles' "Hotel California," take an intermission, then come back for a "greatest hits" batch of Eagles songs. It's what they do no matter whose album they're playing.

If you can't make this show, come back for the next. They may do Tom Petty's "Damn the Torpedoes" or AC/DC's "Back in Black" or "Led Zeppelin IV" or Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon."

I was the music writer for The Birmingham News for the last half of the 1980s and most of the '90s. I made a rough count awhile back of how many bands I saw during those years, plus the ones from my teens and 20s. It came to more than 600, and I'm sure I've forgotten many. At this point, I only go to concerts by bands that I really want to see.

I'll be at "Hotel California" Saturday. I'm not a huge fan of the record. I'm going not because I'm friends with J. Willoughby, but because I've enjoyed every Black Jacket Symphony show I've attended.

Simple as that.

Contact Shawn Ryan at mshawnryan@gmail.com.

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