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Gate River Run band slots are coveted

They've pumped up the crowd for years with music to run by.

Posted: March 6, 2013 - 9:25pm  

By Clayton Freeman

Dale Stephenson has raced the 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) of the Gate River Run. On Saturday, playing guitar for Flashback along San Marco Boulevard, he’ll encourage others on their journey.

“It’s very exciting because there’s thousands of people running by,” he said. “You can feel their enthusiasm and energy.”

Flashback is one of nine local bands surrounding runners with melody and rhythm along the route, from the towers of the Southbank through the lanes of St. Nicholas to the finish outside EverBank Field.

From a start with just four groups several decades ago, Gate River Run director Doug Alred says the race’s roadside slots have become coveted gigs that keep performers coming back, year after year.

“Usually once they’re there, they stay around forever,” Alred said.

The bands play a mix of songs, largely high-tempo rock classics, to energize weary minds and aching muscles.

Stationed near the Main Street bridge, the Motown-infused Ain’t Too Proud to Beg is the first on the road. For the group’s Tom LeGrand, helping runners along is part of the fun.

“We’re very upbeat in our musical selection,” he said. “It gets them revved up, and I feel like there’s a lot of energy at that point.”

The iPod age hasn’t dampened the bands’ appeal. Although some runners aren’t tuned in to outside sounds like Flashback’s Springsteen-to-Skynyrd rock selection, many show their appreciation along the way.

“We see a lot of people waving out to us and dancing to the music as they run by,” Stephenson said.

Over time, bands become landmarks for runners.

“You know around this corner, you’re going to see this group and you know what they’re going to play,” said JTC Running President Larry Roberts, in his 21st race.

Though bands like the Bush Doctors have played at the same mile mark for many races, the Southern rock Corbitt Brothers Band is joining the tradition for the first time. Brothers Newsome and Isaac Corbitt, now based in Franklin, N.C., grew up next door to Alred in Beauclerc.

They’ll play at the 9-mile mark just after the Hart Bridge, the dreaded “Green Monster,” and await their chance to pump runners up for the home stretch.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the look on people’s faces as they go by,” Newsome Corbitt said. “By the time they get to us, they’ll be ready for the finish.”

The bands’ day has its own challenges.

With the wave start at 8:30 a.m., some bands set up before 7 a.m. Usually, the music begins when the first race escort comes into view and doesn’t stop until the runners and crowds have left.

And cold morning temperatures mean cold fingers, a nuisance for performers on instruments like guitars and keyboards.

The musicians say it’s all worth the effort.

“The Gate River Run has grown into a premier running event,” LeGrand said. “It’s great to be associated with it.”

Clayton Freeman for the Times-Union