On Saturday, Sept. 23, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic will celebrate the first day of fall with Never Break the Chain: The Music of Fleetwood Mac at Sweetwater Performance Pavilion. 

This concert features a longtime favorite group from London, Ontario, Canada called Jeans ’n Classics, a rock band that tours North America fronting orchestras and playing the arrangements of their leader, Peter Brennan.

Adding layers

Never Break the Chain: The Music of Fleetwood Mac

Fort Wayne Philharmonic
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23
Sweetwater Performance Pavilion
5501 U.S. Hwy. 30 W., Fort Wayne
$20-$86 · (260) 432-8176

In Never Break the Chain, Jeans ’n Classics sing and play the Fleetwood Mac songs from their best-known period, starting in 1975 when Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined the band. Brennan’s original orchestrations add layers of interpretation onto some truly compelling songs by the late singer and keyboardist Christine McVie.

This lineup of Jeans ’n Classics features singers Rique Franks, Katherine Rose, and Johnny Rutledge; guitarist Dave Dunlop; keyboardist Kevin Adamson; Jon Paul on bass guitar; and Steve Heathcote on drums. Jeans ’n Classics conductor Mitch Tyler will lead the band and 36 members of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic providing the strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion.

Brennan has been orchestrating classic rock shows based on the works of many artists and bands since the ’90s, and he is constantly refining his craft.

Fleetwood Mac wrote some wonderful songs, but the arrangements and chords they used were simple and straightforward. 

When I spoke with Brennan, I asked what attracted him to writing a whole orchestra of sound to go with these beautiful songs and how he did it. 

“The same thing that attracts me to any group initially, with Fleetwood Mac, was the vocals,” Brennan said. “Stevie Nicks’ voice just killed me. And then Christine McVie’s voice, but then also the sound of the harmony structure. They had those three parts so beautifully done. In the ’70s into the ’80s, it was to me such a beautiful thing. And oh, by the way, they can really write.”

Songs on setlist

So what can we expect inside the pavilion on Sept. 23?

“We open the night with ‘Rhiannon’ and the orchestra are all over the map,” Brennan said. “It’s very busy. There’s flourishes everywhere and it’s a joy. They get about the first minute and a half just by themselves, almost like a baby overture, before the band comes in on that opening guitar lick. And then the same orchestration comes back. When the singers hit the chorus, you’ve got all of this string movement wafting all over everything. 

“With ‘Everywhere,’ one of Christine’s songs, you hear all the little guitar movements, all the little keyboard movements. It’s a joy to then orchestrate that with strings and the various woodwinds. Woodwinds are quite busy in the Fleetwood Mac show because of all the delicacy of the upper end keyboard overdubs.

“With ‘Songbird,’ the last thing I want to do is get in the way of the simplicity and the beauty of what she did with that song. So all I do is use really gentle woodwinds throughout, along with quite a piano feature, and the voice. 

“The flip side of that is ‘Don’t Stop,’ which kicks. Some of those guitar licks work out very nicely with horns doing their own variation of it.”

“So much of it is imagination,” Brennan said. 

He listened carefully to Fleetwood Mac’s studio recordings and the textures they created when they overdubbed multiple keyboard and guitar parts. 

“So I get our keyboard player to do the piano part and the overdub might come into the brass or it might go into the strings,” he said. “It’s just trying to get a big sound.”

“ Dreams” is a song that has only two chords. 

“So how do you make it interesting for an orchestra?” Brennan said. “I got it into my head to use pizzicato strings all the way through it. Everybody really likes it because it is counter-rhythms, counter-melodies. You have to work linearly. Let’s not have a string section sitting there doing two chords back and forth. Instead, they’ll go across those chords. That’s a Beatles lesson, an Alan Parsons lesson. Very seldom will I want strings to be padding. But if they do, then they’ll turn around and they’ll do a flourish, because I like to keep life interesting for them.

“ ‘Little Lies,’ they got into using synthesizer textures. That’s an invitation for me to say, ‘Let’s have some fun with the woodwinds.’ The percussion speaks for itself. Timpani, vibraphone, and glockenspiel are very busy in the show. We’ve got a little bit of marimba.

“On ‘Sarah,’ which is one of my favorite songs, all those guitar licks, the keyboards are doing it, but I’ve also got the vibraphones and the glockenspiel on it. So you get this texture of different instruments that are doing those climbing cords throughout.”

Keeping busy

Brennan has two Jeans ’n Classics groups touring simultaneously. 

Symphony orchestras throughout Canada and the U.S. can hire them to present upwards of 30 different classic rock tribute shows which Brennan has arranged since he started the group in the 1990s. 

Brennan does not conduct the orchestra. Instead, he plays lead guitar. While the Fleetwood Mac show is playing Fort Wayne, Brennan will be with the other Jeans ’n Classics company in a concert of the music of Elton John and Billy Joel with the Regina Symphony Orchestra in Saskatchewan.

Musicians in the Fort Wayne Philharmonic enjoy rocking out, but what really inspires them is their Masterworks concerts. One reason the orchestra puts on the summer concerts and rock shows is to introduce orchestral music to an audience of fans who might not check it out otherwise. Lots of folks like what they hear.

The Fort Wayne Philharmonic will celebrate their 80th anniversary during the 2023-24 season, which begins with the first Masterworks concert on Oct. 7. This season they are moving to a new venue for them, the Auer Performance Hall at Purdue University Fort Wayne. 

Check out their full calendar of music at fwphil.org, and look for coverage coming up in Whatzup.