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Beyond Penny Lane: Livermore native's path to Paul McCartney tribute show

Livermore High alum Mark Abbott plays drums in Stroll Down Penny Lane, which comes to Bankhead on May 13
Mark Abbott
Livermore native Mark Abbott is the drummer in Stroll Down Penny Lane, which comes to the Bankhead Theater on May 13.

When Livermore native Mark Abbott was in fifth grade, his father slammed his fists on the dinner table and demanded his two sons choose an instrument to begin playing. That was the first step in what would become Abbott's path to a professional music career and upcoming show at the Bankhead Theater next week.

"My dad sensed that his kids were drawn to music and probably thought we were afraid to ask for a guitar or drums," Abbott said. "And so he set this stage for making it OK, and that's how I got started."

As a student at Rincon Avenue Elementary School, Abbott began taking drum lessons at Al's Valley Music on First Street. He continued learning the instrument while attending Junction Avenue Middle School, but it wasn't until he was a sophomore at Livermore High School that he decided he would make music his career.

In the early 1980s Abbott was present at a J. Geils Band concert at what was then the San Francisco Civic Center when his brother, who was four years his senior, fell ill and was unable to attend.

During the pre-concert sound checks, Abbott, who wasn't a fan of J. Geils' poppier sound, determined he had no interest in the opening band either, but before that band took stage, Abbott overheard the patrons behind him discussing the opener, calling them a "new wave band from Ireland."

Within the first moments of U2 taking the stage Abbott, who exclusively listened to hard rock, said his entire world had changed. He was mesmerized by what he was hearing.

Abbott said the crowd called U2 back for multiple encores before Bono proclaimed they didn't have any additional songs to play, and in the final minutes of their performance Abbott said his future career was solidified.

"(Bono) brings this girl up on stage and they sit on the drum riser and Bono leads the whole place in 'Give Peace a Chance' ... to be in that room at that moment was incredible," Abbott said.

"And, on the ride home in the car, my older brother's friend Mike said, 'something in addition to music rolled off that stage,'" he recalled. "At the time, he didn't have the words for it, and I didn't have the words for it. But basically, we had had a spiritual experience and it was at that moment that I knew this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be part of something that made people feel that way."

Throughout the years, Abbott has performed as both a live and studio musician, taking gigs as they've presented themselves and achieving moderate success with the band Box Set in the 1990s. For the past half decade, Abbott has been part of Stroll Down Penny Lane, a Paul McCartney musical tribute group.

The brainchild of lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Joe Anastasi, Stroll Down Penny Lane is a multimedia show combining the works of McCartney with video accompaniment.

The show itself follows McCartney from his earliest influences through The Beatles and Wings and to his current solo career. While most of the music performed is recognizable to the average McCartney fan, Abbott said there are at least two deep cuts performed throughout the show that only avid fans will recognize.

Being part of Stroll Down Penny Lane and performing in Livermore brings Abbott, now a resident of San Francisco, full circle, as the first album he ever purchased with his own money was Paul McCartney and Wings' Venus and Mars at Livermore's now-defunct Galaxy Records.

The show, Abbott said, is also the first of the group's post-COVID-19 shutdown performances and serves as a homecoming for Abbott, who said he expects a number of friends and family to attend. He also hopes anyone who loves McCartney's music will buy a seat.

"It's less expensive than a ticket to Paul McCartney," Abbott said with a laugh. "It will deepen your appreciation for Paul McCartney. Something will be realized to you that you didn't know before, didn't notice before or you didn't realize and you might learn something. You'll get a deeper appreciation of the music because of what we do with the films."

Stroll Down Penny Lane performs at the Bankhead Theater in downtown Livermore next Friday (May 13) at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at livermorearts.org.