After 20 years of private gigs, the Blues Brothers — fedoras, sunglasses, suits and all — performed in public on Saturday night at the Tabernacle for the benefit of Hillels of Georgia.
Shuffling onto the stage in rhythmic step, Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) and “Joliet” Jake Blues (Jim Belushi) did not miss a beat all night, entertaining the audience of about 1,200 for more than an hour with tales of lovers past, dances with women in the audience and jam riffs on their harmonicas.
The Blues Brothers, a band formed on a Saturday Night Live skit from 1976, have recorded multiple albums and movies during their run. Belushi, playing the part of his late brother and original band member John Belushi, wowed the audience with his somersaults and risqué dancing. For one song, he teased the audience with his large belly and invited other “big” guys join him onstage. The banter lasted all night as Belushi began to tell a story of a failed relationship in Providence, R.I., leading into a song titled “36-22-36.”
Their back-up band and vocalists — some of whom have collaborated with greats such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Second City stars — provided an accompanying sound that made these Brothers sound more like musicians than comics.
Perhaps the most entertaining moment of the night occurred during the band’s cover of Isaac Hayes’s “Soul Man.” The entire theater, women too old to be dressed like they were and men too drunk to notice, danced along — many onstage — throughout the song.
The Tabernacle provided the appropriate venue for Saturday night’s show, given its past history as a House of Blues venue during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. The concept for the House of Blues originates from the Blues Brothers, Belushi said onstage.
The event however, would not have taken place without the assistance of College junior Andrew Bloomfield and his father Harry. As a sophomore, Bloomfield and his father approached Director of Emory Hillel Michael Rabkin with a proposition to help Hillel raise funds.
Bloomfield, who considers himself someone with a “strong Zionist Jewish background,” said he believed strongly in helping Hillel. And since Aykroyd and Harry Bloomfield are good friends, and since Aykroyd had wanted to do a live performance for a while, the process to plan Saturday’s concert began.
“[Aykroyd and Belushi] would do a concert benefit for a charitable organization of Harry’s choosing,” Rabkin said. “Harry asked me, and I said, ‘Let me think about that for a second — uh, sure, let’s do it.’”
About a year ago, the Hillel staff began to organize and promote the event. Rabkin brought on Dan West of True Experience, a promotion company that had organized festivals in New Orleans, Cabo San Lucas and Caren West PR, an Atlanta-based firm. Bloomfield worked toward promoting the event to students on campus.
The event provided the “first opportunity to go way beyond the audience that doesn’t understand Hillel,” Rabkin said. Neither Aykroyd nor Belushi is Jewish, but Aykroyd provided television and radio interviews that talked up Hillel and its work. In addition, he provided a spiel on the organization onstage.
As another promotional stunt, Hillel sold 80 tickets to Harley Davidson and Blues Brothers enthusiasts to take the 20-mile ride down I-75 from the Earl Small Harley Davidson shop to the Tabernacle for a sound check with the band. But when they left, more than 1,000 people showed up for the ride.
“They slowed traffic down considerably,” Rabkin said.
Although Emory Hillel’s largest fund-raiser is the annual Campus Superstar coming up on March 31, Rabkin said he was pleased with the outcome.
When asked if he intended to arrange anything similar to a Blues Brothers show in the future, Rabkin said: “I asked Dan [Aykroyd] what he thought, and he said, ‘We should shoot for Beyonce next.’”
— Contributing writer Ina Gill contributed reporting.
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