Music of Queen - Freddie Mercury and much more, at Grand Rapids Symphony's Picnic Pops

The British rock group Queen went where few musical acts had ever gone before.

Beginning with hard rock and heavy metal music, later progressing to elaborately constructed recordings and extravagant arena rock shows, Queen’s 1981 compilation album, Greatest Hits, has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide and been certified eight times platinum in the United States.

The band’s 1985 Live Aid concert has been ranked as among the greatest shows in rock music history. Six years later, front man Freddie Mercury died from complications from AIDS.

The group that was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 is no more. But the music of Queen lives on.

Jeans ‘n Classics, a Canadian rock band, joins the Grand Rapids Symphony this week at the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops for “The Music of Queen.”

Hear classic Queen songs from “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “You’re My Best Friend” to “Somebody to Love” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the Grand Rapids Pops on Thursday and Friday, July 21-22, at Cannonsburg Ski Area.

The second show of the 2016 D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops series is at 7:30 p.m. Gates open at 5:45 for picnicking and preconcert activities.

Queen is a one-of-a-kind band, according to Peter Brennan, founder and arranger of Jeans ‘n Classics.

“It might be the most sophisticated rock music ever developed,” Brennan told the Kalamazoo Gazette prior to a performance of the music of Queen with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra in February 2010. “I think Queen is fairly untouchable.”

Lead vocalist Michael Shotton fronts the seven-piece rock band joining the Grand Rapids Symphony under associate conductor John Varineau.

Hear a sample of Jeans 'n Classics featuring Michael Shotton singing "We Are the Champions."

Shotton, originally from Newcastle, England, enjoyed a successful career with the Canadian rock band, Diamond Life. He’s collaborated with Jeans ‘n Classics for nearly 20 years.

“I love singing the material,” Shotton told the Charleston Gazette-Mail prior to an appearance with the West Virginia Symphony in April 2012. “But it’s not a tribute show.”

Jean 'n Classics strives to bring popular music with orchestral arrangements to the stage - a rock-meets-pop effort designed to attract younger audiences to symphony halls.

"I want the audiences to feel like we're going down these roads together,” Shotton said. “This is the stuff we grew up listening to."

Jeans ‘n Classics has appeared previously with the Grand Rapids Symphony. In September 2009, the band was in DeVos Performance Hall to open the Pops Series with “James Bond: Shaken Not Stirred,” an evening of songs written for the franchise of films starring Ian Fleming's British secret service agent, 007.

The following year, JnC was back with “The Music of Elton John” in February 2010.

Brennan, chief arranger for the group, said he was inspired by rock music of his childhood that drew on symphony orchestras.

“It always appealed to me to merge the sound of an orchestra with pop music,” he said. “I had heard stuff like Moody Blues, some stuff by the Beatles, then progressive rock. On the flip side, I always loved the fabulous Motown music, and the disco era used strings and brass so beautifully. That big sound really appealed to me.”

Since 1996, Jeans ‘n Classics, based in London, Ontario, has created classic rock shows featuring symphony orchestras, celebrating the music of acts ranging from Abba to Led Zeppelin.

“Our first performance, we were probably as scared as any band has been in the history of bands,” Brennan told American Press recently.

“You had this eight-piece rock band with singers next to an orchestra, and they didn’t know what to make of us, either,” he said earlier this month. “There was some resistance at first — people who did not want to play rock music.”

“But it has become easier as time has gone on. The people in the orchestra have changed,” he said. “Now you have people who are just as happy to play Led Zeppelin as they are Beethoven or John Williams.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at 15:00
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