When University President Michael Drake isn’t busy, you know, being the university president, there’s a good chance he’s busy playing classic rock tunes on his guitar.
Drake will once again show off these skills Thursday when he combines forces with Columbus businessmen Nick Akins and George Barrett for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s third-annual Rock and Roll Road Show at Shadowbox Live.
The band, which has yet to be named, has been together since the inaugural road show in 2015 when Alec Wightman, chairman of the board at the Rock Hall, found a group of three stray Rock Hall board members in Columbus looking to get back into music.
“It was really amazing because it was the first time we’d all three gotten together to play and Greg Harris, who is the executive director out at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, he played guitar as well, so the four of us joined forces with the Shadowbox band and their creativity and certainly our ability to play along with them turned out to be a great event,” said Akins, CEO of American Electric Power.
Each year, Shadowbox Live hosts the event to celebrate the Rock Hall and commemorate new inductees and late musicians. This year’s show will feature music from new inductees Pearl Jam, as well as George Harrison, Prince and Aretha Franklin.
“It’s a real variety of popular music and a variety of different styles and we span about 50 years in release date, so music from the last half of the last century up to more recent music,” Drake said.
Drake played guitar as a teenager, and then stopped for more than 40 years. But after seeing a band of old musicians play at a friend’s party, he was inspired to pull the guitar out from under his bed, dust it off and get back into music.
His love for music has been a constant in his life. In college, the now-university president worked at Tower Records, where he spent most of his time playing and listening to popular music. However, his love for rock and similar types of music shine through when he’s playing the guitar.
“I have been listening to the popular music of the day for a long time,” he said. “But a lot of the music that I’ve been playing now is music that would’ve been recorded in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s [and] ‘90s. I play more things that are older than are brand new because it tends to be rock-and-roll and not as much hip-hop or whatever.”
Since forming, the band has played a variety of gigs around Columbus, including the mayor’s inauguration, this year’s convocation and Buckeyethon. With Drake on guitar, Akins on drums and Barrett on vocals, guitar and keys, the band plays a wide array of genres to integrate its members’ individual tastes.
“We enjoy playing everything and it’s always great for us to challenge each other on what we’re playing,” Akins said. “Michael’s [taste in] music is very broad, mine is relatively broad and George’s is broad as well.”
For Akins, playing the drums has been a lifetime endeavor. The AEP executive started in seventh grade, moved to marching and studio bands in high school and continued playing in bands on the side through college and today.
Barrett, the CEO of Cardinal Health, has been a classically trained musician since childhood.
When the group first got together in 2015, the excitement to get on stage was obvious.
“It’s probably something, I don’t know if [Drake would] want me to say this, but it was like three rockers backstage,” Akins said. “When we got back here, everyone was loose, everyone was having fun talking about all kinds of things.”
For Drake, the band has been more than just a side gig.
“It’s nice to go some place where people are actually creating something in the moment that’s right there, and it’s fun to play and it’s fun to listen to,” he said.
Akins said being part of the event has been a way for the band members to get more involved in the community and show another side of themselves.
“We all love music and we all love to play and I think it’s definitely gratifying for us to be able to give back to the community,” he said. “Typically we’re playing for fundraisers and it’s great to give back to the community doing something that we love to do, but also have the ability as CEOs in this community to be able to set the tone of really giving back in any way you can.”