Last November, the First Presbyterian Church in Champaign held a memorial service for one of its members who had passed away.
The gathering was such a hit that — on Sept. 28 at Champaign’s Virginia Theatre — it’s going to hold an even-bigger memorial. The church is sponsoring a multi-band rock concert in memory of the deceased — Bob Nutt — a onetime impresario of the music scene not only in central Illinois, but all over the Midwest.
Former and current musicians — most of them now senior citizens who still cherish their days as rock ’n’ roll rebels — are coming from all over the country to participate in the four-hour show.
They were part of the heyday of rock music in the 1960s and ’70s that Nutt, through his Blytham Ltd. booking agency, created.
“He was an organizer and a promoter. But I like the word ‘visionary’ better,” said Mahomet’s Garrett Oostdyk, a guitarist with The Finchley Boys.
The Finchley Boys will be getting back together for the show along with other bands and musicians from that era. They include COBALT, Jim Cole & The Boneyard Navigators, Pauli Carman, Scorfina’s Chrome & Steel, Terri Luttrell and The Snakes plus a so-far-undisclosed “Grand Finale.”
Promoters say “these grateful musicians are coming home to plug-in, remembering their visionary, offbeat, and staunch champion.”
Nutt’s genius as an organizer was to identify a niche in the marketplace that allowed Blytham to manage large numbers of smaller, lesser, but up-and-coming bands and find venues for them to perform.
“He got us all work,” said David Dilley, who started performing in high school under Nutt’s tutelage and got to know him well over the years.
Profits from the concert will go to CU at Home, a ministry serving the homeless and down-on-their-luck.
The event is the result of an unusual conglomeration of factors coming together, starting with Nutt himself.
He died Sept. 3 at age 75, his modest social status at the end of his life at odds with his impressive reputation early in his life as a manager and promoter, along with music management legend Irving Azoff, of such Blytham bands as The One-Eyed Jacks and REO Speedwagon.
In more recent years, Nutt fell on hard times. But the Oswego native and 1966 University of Illinois graduate attended the Presbyterian Church, where he participated in services and programs and made friends with more conventional community members.
After Nutt died, the church held a memorial luncheon that attracted church and musician friends. The church later held a memorial service in his honor that was attended by church members and veterans of the music scene over which Nutt presided.
Representatives of both groups took turns speaking at the memorial service, each providing their perspective of the man they knew — the elderly Nutt and the youthful hard-charger who was endlessly creative about how to build and then promote bands at a time when live music was huge on campuses, bars like “The Red Lion,” and entertainment venues in hundreds of large and small cities and towns.
It was after the memorial service that the idea for the concert first was vaguely raised.
The Rev. Matt Matthews said the concert proposal, a project driven mostly by volunteers, did not begin to take shape until January, when he discussed the idea with Dilley.
“I said, ‘We’ve got to do something. This man is responsible for the music scene we have in town,” Dilley recalled.
Matthews said he was intrigued by the proposal, but somewhat skeptical it would become a reality.
“What’s surprised me is how many meetings this has taken to pull off,” he said. “I really expected this thing to fall apart somewhere along the way. But it hasn’t.”
Backers of the event are promoting it in a variety of ways, including on Facebook where Nutt associates have expressed their gratitude to him while strolling down memory lane.
“Bob was totally selfless and helped The Guild get off to a great start at Chances R. I will never forget him,” wrote professional musician Bill Ulkus, referring to the onetime popular college bar located on Chester Street in Champaign.
Tickets for the show are $25 and $15.
Larry Frederickson, a drummer who will be playing with The Finchley Boys and is working to promote the show, said he’s been pleased by the excitement it has generated and is anticipating a big night.
“This thing really has legs,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is email@example.com.