The two Batavia-based groups share a name and a penchant for cowboy hats. But musically, the two Ghost Riders are quite different.
The Ghost Riders country music band led by Bill McDonald and Bill Pitcher favors guitars, original music and classic country songs spiced with other genre-mixing covers.
Then, there’s the Ghost Riders Drum & Bugle Mini Corps which doesn’t have any guitars in its lineup of brass horns and thundering percussion.
“We’re not really country, but a period cavalry look. Though our music is very Americana based,” said Doug Mellenthine of Batavia, co-director and founder of the Ghost Riders Drum & Bugle Mini Corps. Rod Keppel is the other director.
Both groups have been around since the mid-1990s and while their names have caused plenty of confusion, their paths had never crossed musically until last year’s mid-summer performance in Jackson Square.
The two Ghost Riders groups apparently had so much fun at that show, that they’ve decided to saddle up for an encore. They will share the Jackson Square stage on Friday. The free concert begins at 7 p.m. in the converted alley between Jackson and Center streets in downtown Batavia.
The first show “was very well received,” said Mellenthine, who said he has often kidded McDonald about the “little confusion” caused by the group’s similar names.
McDonald said the show was a unique event and "way too cool."
"It was a fabulous show for all," he said. "If weather's on our side, we're expecting a huge turn out."
McDonald and Pitcher have been the mainstays of the five-member Ghost Riders country band, which has changed players a couple of times since the group’s 1994 founding. Members have played concerts across Western New York, opening several times for national acts. The band has performed at Jackson Square in each of its 12 summers.
The mini-drum corps, though, has about four times the number of musicians as the country band’s five-person ensemble.
The 21-member mini-drum corps, Mellenthine said, is “more like a concert-band with a little bit of movement.”
The group of 21 performers was created in 1996 (about two years after the country band) to compete in the Drum Corps Associates “mini corps” competition, which use fewer musicians and a smaller space than the band-sized drum and bugle corps that play on athletic fields and inside stadiums.
The limitations require strong musicianship, said Mellenthine, whose group won a world championship in 2000 and will compete again for the title Labor Day weekend in Annapolis, Md. For the past two years, the Ghost Riders have finished second in the competition.
The Jackson Square concert will offer a preview of the drum corps’ championship show, “Civil War Portrait.”
“It’s like a war scene with percussion,” Mellenthine said of the original arrangement from Donny Allen, a World Drum Corps Hall of Fame member. “Even for non-musical people they will be able to follow the story.”
The piece includes such familiar pieces as “Battle Hymn of the Republic” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “Glory-Glory Hallelujah.”
“It takes the audience from the start of the strife, through the war and battle and ends with the country coming together,” Mellenthine said. “I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever performed.”
The show earned four standing ovations following its performance earlier this year at the Mighty St. Joe’s Classic.
The piece lasts about 8 minutes and will be performed in its entirety, though the size of the venue will limit some of the movement and none of the group’s props will be used. The drum corps will also play a few of their standard selections for a total running time of about 30 minutes.
The drum corps is scheduled to present its show at 8 p.m. The Ghost Riders country band opens the concert at 7 p.m., and returns to close the show at 8:30 p.m.