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Brian Diller and The Ride return to Charleston

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WHAT: Brian Diller and The Ride reunion concert

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Haddad Riverfront Park

ADMISSION: Free

INFO: www.festivallcharleston.com

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Brian Diller will tell you he has it pretty good. The 52-year-old Charleston native and Nashville resident has been married for 25 years and is still in awe of his wife.

"She's amazing," he said.

He has two great kids; the eldest, a musician, just graduated from high school and already has a management deal with people who want to make him a star.

He loves his job, too. Diller is the CEO for St. Luke's House, a nonprofit organization in Nashville that works through the Episcopal Church to help low-income working families, seniors and individuals through programs such as preschool, counseling and meals for the hungry.

It's a good life, but it's not the life Diller intended when he and bass player Steve Burgess packed up their instruments 20 years ago and moved to Music City, USA.

Saturday evening, the pair, along with the rest of their bandmates from '80s Charleston favorites Brian Diller and The Ride, come together for a free reunion show from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Haddad Riverfront Park, as part of FestivALL. It's the first time the entire band has shared the stage since the early 1990s.

Back when they were part of the Charleston music scene, there were few local bands bigger. Like most groups, they played a few cover songs, but they were better known for their original music -- much of it written by Diller.

In the late 1980s, they were a group on the move.

"We'd developed followings in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Washington, D.C.," Diller said. "We'd opened for all kinds of people. One year at Regatta, we opened for Ray Charles. The next year, we opened for Cheap Trick.

"There were a hundred thousand people at that show. It was like nothing I'd ever seen."

It was exciting, but there was only so far the band could go in West Virginia. In 1990, approaching his 30th birthday, Diller suddenly realized that if he wanted to write songs for a living, he needed to be where people bought songs.

Nashville was the closest, and during the 1980s, it had shifted from being the capital of country music to a broader pop-music mecca. Folk, contemporary Christian and rock bands were coming out of Nashville.

Diller and Burgess wanted to give it a shot, but the rest of the Ride couldn't relocate. They had jobs and families in the area or obligations that kept them from taking the leap. So Diller and Burgess went alone.

"Steve and I played every club you can imagine," Diller said. "We made the rounds with the music publishers."

They worked at it for two years. In the meantime, Diller said, the musical landscape of Nashville changed again. A young musician named Garth Brooks led a new pop-country music movement, and suddenly nobody in town really cared about rock 'n' roll.

At the same time, Diller and his wife wanted to start a family. For Diller, that meant a more stable home life and a dependable occupation. He decided to go back to school and get a degree.

He had to break the news to his friend Burgess.

"Steve asked me if I wanted him to wait for me," Diller said. "And the answer was yes, but no. I wanted him to, but I couldn't ask him to do something like that. It wasn't fair to him."

As it happened, the two rented rehearsal space in an old warehouse, along with some other musicians. Across the way, another rock band, the Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies, had just lost their bass player.

Since Diller was going back to college, they asked Burgess if he wanted to join them.

"Six weeks later, they got signed to a record deal," Diller said. "They put out three major label records, traveled the world."

Diller laughed. He's not bitter about it.

"I'm really proud of Steve's success."

Diller went on to earn a master's degree in human resource development, but he never completely quit music.

"I still play in town here and there," he said. "There's a group of us, and we play benefits and charity events."

He also kept in touch with his old bandmates from the Ride.

"Steve lives, like, five miles from my house," he said. "But we've kept up with everybody through phone calls and email."

Over and over, they've all talked about getting everyone in the band back together to play a show. Diller said they've come close a couple of times, managed to get some of the band together to play a few times, but this event at FestivALL is really the first time in 20 years that the entire band will share a stage.

Finding their way back to the old songs hasn't been that tough for any of them, Diller said. They studied together or separately using a website they made of their collected material.

"It's all musical muscle memory," he said. "It almost feels like we're cheating."

Diller has high hopes for the show. In a lot of ways, nothing has changed and everything has changed. Everyone in the band has an established life. They have careers, families and obligations, but there's something to be said for being settled, he added.

There isn't as much of a scramble to get ahead as there was 20 years ago. They have responsibilities, but there isn't the same urgency. The children have grown up. There's time to do some of the things they gave up to grow businesses and raise families.

"I hope to do it all again," Diller said. "After we do this show, I'd like to try playing together again soon. I've got a huge bucket of songs I've written over the past 20 years. The other guys have been writing, too. I'd love for this to be an outlet for us."

He laughed and added, "The Ride Band 21st century!"

But he's taking it one step at a time. Diller said he's glad to just get the chance to come home and play with some old friends again.

"More than playing together, the thing I've missed the most is hanging out with these guys," Diller said. "These guys were my best friends. I missed our friendship."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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