Life has three acts — why shouldn’t one of them be a musical?
In 2000, Joe Perez was coming off a 40-year intermission. His first wife had recently passed and it seemed like a good time to lean on an old friend. Music had kept him company in high school, followed him through the Navy and kept in touch during college.
It wasn’t until he got married and began a career that they found themselves growing apart. There just wasn’t time for the same level of commitment.
But it was different now. Perez began playing with the Centre Region Senior Center band in 2000. Two years and many jams later, he took his talents as a vocalist and saxophonist to The Second Winds, a group of Centre County musicians well into their golden years.
It was in The Second Winds band that Perez met Elizabeth, a vocalist and widow that would become his friend — and eventually his wife — a year later.
“We hit it off and it’s been good ever since,” Perez said.
Perez and Elizabeth Fink Perez were 2 of the 11 members of The Second Winds band assembled inside Juniper Village at Brookline on a beautiful Monday in March.
The Centre County group usually spent Monday afternoons rehearsing at the Centre Region Senior Center, but today they had booked a gig — they would blow the roof off the Willows Dining Room with tunes from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s in exchange for a free meal.
Drums had been unpacked, trumpets unsheathed and guitars strummed, all before an elderly audience had taken their seats. The only thing left to do was some good-natured preshow ribbing.
Guitarist John McDermott and bass guitarist Mike Dooris are both in their mid-60s, the youngest members in a band with a cumulative age of 851 years — and thus prime targets. Both are thinning a bit on top, a fact that a few of their older, well-coiffed counterparts weren’t shy about rubbing in their faces.
It’s the kind of energy generated by a group that seems to genuinely enjoy making music together.
“We're all excited to be alive. We don't want to get too excited or we won’t make it,” drummer Glenn “Sticks” Johnson said.
Once the performance at Juniper Village got underway, it was Johnson who provided the signature whoops heard during the band’s rendition of “Roll Out the Barrel.”
He joined The Second Winds back in 2011. A lifelong musician, Johnson was one of the founders of the group “Joe Nardone and the All Stars,” backing up talent like Neil Diamond and opening for Bill Haley and the Comets.
Talented musicians are what have kept him twirling drum sticks into his golden years.
“Guys this age can play this stuff as well as they do? It’s amazing,” Johnson said.
The audience of about 20 seniors sitting in the dining room seemed to agree. Hands were raised into the air when Fink Perez asked if they had heard songs like “Gone with the Wind” and “Fly Me to the Moon” before.
The Second Winds play nursing homes throughout the fall and winter, usually averaging about one performance per month. Anissa Rupert Ilie, director of community relations at Juniper Village, said that the band is highly requested.
“They’re very popular all around this area. I think it’s because they’re the same age and the same generation. It’s very nice to see active seniors making music like this,” Ilie said.
At 86 years old, trombonist and band manager Ted Fuller has made a lot of music in his lifetime. He got his first paid gig at the age of 16, working in a bar and dance joint. After being drafted in 1951, he toured Korea in Army road shows.
Fuller returned to music in his 70s and, in addition to the Second Winds, has played with the Senior Center Dance Band and the Bellefonte Community Band. He’s taken notice of the positive effect that music has on their older audience.
“They’re tapping their fingers, singing along ... It’s kind of heartwarming,” Fuller said.
According to Fink Perez, the benefits have been mutual. She and Joe Perez have been married for more than a decade and they still enjoy performing with their friends.
“Music is so good for the soul, as much for those who play as for those who listen,” Fink Perez said.
It was her husband who took the microphone to introduce the band’s final number. As the music began to swell, he thanked the audience for attending.
And then Joe Perez began to sing “What a Wonderful World.”