If summer in the Hamptons is one big fête, then there’s no better way to kick off the season than with the Ultimate Party Band—the B-52s.
Best known for their chart-topping hits “Rock Lobster,” “Love Shack” and “Roam,” the B-52s have been rocking the American sound waves since 1976, and they’ll take the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center stage on May 23.
The key to the band’s longevity? “Original material and being egalitarian,” B-52s frontman and Hamptonite Fred Schneider says. “We’ve always shared everything equally, from credits to money. Being friends, we’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re closer than ever. And, we make it fun. We’ve cut back on how many shows we do. We’re not going to get on a bus and take sleeping pills.”
Formed in Athens, Georgia, the band originally featured Schneider, Kate Pierson, Keith Strickland, Cindy Wilson and Ricky Wilson. They’ve largely stayed together over the years, persevering despite the death of guitarist Ricky Wilson from AIDS in 1985, and intermittent departures and solo ventures.
Schneider now lives in Wainscott year-round, joining the B-52s on their select tour dates and playing with the Superions, an electronic/pop/comedy band he founded in 2006. “I like the writing and collaborating process, especially with the Superions, because it’s painless. We hit on something and burst out laughing,” Schneider says of his favorite aspect of being in the music world. “We do ridiculous music with a straight face.”
When not touring or collaborating, Schneider takes up traditional East End pastimes. “[I play] mad beach volleyball, but I haven’t done it in awhile,” Schneider says. And, he wants to take up gardening, but admits, “I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do with the stuff I’ve bought!”
A vegetarian since the early 1970s (and frequenter of Water Mill’s The Green Thumb), Schneider doesn’t, however, indulge in the East End tradition of eating seafood, specifically shellfish. He refers to lobsters and crabs as “sea life, not seafood” in a video for PETA, citing concerns for the painful process of cooking lobsters. “Lobsters could live to be 100 years old, if we let them,” Schneider says.
Though Schneider wants lobsters to rock on, the B-52s’ hit “Rock Lobster” didn’t come from a political statement. “We were at a disco in the 1970s, and they had no money for a light show, so they were showing these slides of babies and cooked lobster,” explains Schneider. “And I thought ‘rock lobster,’ and I jammed on it.” Many of the B-52s’ songs were born of similar random encounters, as the friends found inspiration in everyday occurrences. Or, as Schneider says, from “true stories that never happened.”
The show at WHBPAC will be “the best show people have ever seen, because it’s the B-52s and we give it our all,” says Schneider, who will be performing with Pierson and Wilson, as Strickland has decided to stop touring with the band. “People will be up singing and dancing.” The B-52s will play their classics, in addition to material from more recent albums. The B-52s latest addition to their repertoire is Funplex, which was released in 2008. Schneider refers to those songs as some of his favorites.
“There’s been so many great moments,” Schneider says of his B-52s career. “[We’ve been able to] meet people who were our idols growing up and get the respect of our peers.”
The B-52s have a number of other shows across the country this summer, but Schneider plans on spending the time he has Out East relaxing and working on his volleyball game. “If you see me at a beach playing volleyball,” he offers. “come hang out and join.”
The B-52s perform at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach, on May 23 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $125. 631-288-2350, whbpac.org.