Musicians AJ Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle are bringing their unique tribute, Sounds of Simon & Garfunkel to Chastain Park Amphitheatre on Wed. June 5. The two musicians have earned a huge fan following on their own for their performances, often appearing alone on stage with an acoustic guitar recapturing the duo’s early years in Greenwich Village. However, this performance, part of the Classic Chastain series, will offer the extra special treat of hearing AJ’s warm baritone and Jonathan’s soaring tenor backed for part of the night by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by ASO Principal Pops Conductor Michael Krajewski.
ATLRetro caught up with Jonathan recently to find out more about how a chance meeting led to the creation of a memorable partnership that recaptures the magic of one of folk/acoustic rock’s most iconic partnerships.
ATLRetro: So it all started at a local club in Bethlehem, PA in 1991. What drew you both together and why Simon and Garfunkel personally?
Jonathan Beedle: I met AJ at a local club in Bethlehem, PA in 1991. He was doing a lot of tunes from the 70s and a few Paul Simon songs. We started talking during a break and discovered we had a mutual interest in Simon and Garfunkel. He invited me up to do a song with him, a Simon and Garfunkel song, and the blend was very nice right out of the gate… just effortless. That’s how it all started. Over the next few months we started to learn more of the songs, and before we knew it, we knew most of the S&G catalog. We never planned on learning almost all of the material, but we enjoyed the music so much, it just happened.`
Did you grow up with Simon and Garfunkel? How did you first discover their music?
Yes, I grew up with their music. My older brother and sister had their records and the music was alway playing through the house… along with The Beatles and The Beach Boys. I loved the harmony parts – those parts I learned first. I don’t really know why, but that’s what interested me and that’s what I gravitated to.
You both concentrate on Simon and Garfunkel’s early years in Greenwich Village. Can you talk a little bit about what was special about that time and place and the duo’s early partnership/music?
In our show without the symphony we try and deliver the music the way they did back in their Greenwich Village years – just one guitar and two voices. We love the sound striped down to it’s bare elements. The songs stand on their own. The words and the melodies are so powerful.
Simon and Garfunkel are an acoustic duo, but you’ll be backed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. How does they change/enhance the performance?
It is a different presentation of the music. The records they recorded were fully produced. It’s a thrill for us! It adds such a wonderful dimension to the music, the arrangements are beautiful, and the musicianship is remarkable. It’s an honor to be standing on stage performing this music with such amazing talent. When Michael Krajewski approached us with this idea both AJ and I thought it was a wonderful idea. And to be able to do it, it’s really quite incredible. I feel very fortunate to be part of it.
What is your favorite Simon & Garfunkel hit and also a song that’s less well-known but which you personally like? Why these songs?
My favorites are constantly changing. It depends on the audience, how you feel; so many things happen while performing the song, it’s hard to have a true favorite. Both AJ and I love the… I don’t want to call them obscure because once you hear the song it’s something you recall. AJ likes to call them songs you forgot you remembered!
But there are a few that we love to perform: “Flower’s Never Bend with the Rainfall,” “Bleeker Street,” “Blues Run the Game,” the list goes on and on. Now, the set list for the Symphony is more of the hits, but there are so many! “Homeward Bound,” “Dangling Conversation,” “Mrs Robinson,” “Sounds of Silence,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – it’s endless.
Do audiences have certain expectations and how do you change things up to keep performances fresh?
The shows always feel a little different each time we perform because the audiences are different. We do the hits, of course, but it’s the lesser remembered songs audience members seem to talk about. Many times people will tell us they remembered a song and could sing all the words. Yet it was a song that had been forgotten in their memory. It’s amazing how powerful and timeless the music of Simon and Garfunkel is.
Do you have any special plans for this tour/your Atlanta performance?
We are here for such a short time, it will be difficult to venture out and see the sites. I am bringing my two daughters, Hannah and Chelsea, with me to see the show. They haven’t seen the show with an orchestra so I’m really looking forward to getting their reaction.
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