Don't Leave band lives up to its name in Manchester


MANCHESTER -- F. Scott Fitzgerald's quip about how there are no second acts in American lives doesn't hold up well when considering the arc of "Don't Leave," the rock band that wouldn't quit -- or leave, for that matter.

Wander into the Manchester-Dorset area anytime there's some sort of high-profile community event that requires a band to provide music that is both listenable and danceable across a wide spectrum of tastes and ages, and the chances are good Don't Leave will be playing. They are not the only group of veteran rockers who are having fun long after their drums and guitars were supposed to be gathering dust while they were earning a living doing something else, but around the Northshire they are the best known, guaranteed to draw a crowd.

The nucleus of the group first formed in December 1985, when Lee Romano, a bass player, met Bill Muench, who was performing in a duo at a bar near Stratton Mountain along with a college pal.

"We weren't very good and we just called ourselves Don't Leave, almost begging the audience to stick around," Muench recalled. "I always thought we'd find another name."

Romano, who was listening to Muench and his friend, Rich Titus, walked up to them during a break and asked if they'd mind if he added a third part in their vocal harmonies, he said.

They accepted his offer and, with that, he joined the band, bass in tow. Not long after, they added a drummer Romano knew and another guitar player, and the duo became a five-piece band, performing covers of popular mainstream rock tunes at parties, weddings, events and bars. Life was good, and they were asked to open for the Neville Brothers at Stratton in the mid-'90s.

The band was a creative outlet for its members, all of whom made their living doing something else. It connected them to the past, through the music, the performing and the camaraderie. When he's not playing in the band, Romano owns and runs a publishing business based in Dorset, while Muench is an English and psychology teacher at Burr and Burton Academy.

Three-part vocal harmony became the bedrock of the band's sound early on and everything else built around that, both said.

Band members came and went over the years, but Muench and Romano were constants. Then came 2006, when it all threatened to come apart.

Within the space of a couple of months, Rich Titus, one of the original members and the lead singer, moved to New Jersey. Muench was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which required delicate and tricky surgery. And their drummer, Don Gray, passed away from liver cancer.

"Around the time we were thinking about taking a break, a break was forced upon us," Romano said. "We were officially done at that point."

About a year later, after Muench had recovered from his surgery, they got together again just to play a few tunes for therapeutic purposes, Romano said. He called up Mike Meaney, a drummer and vocalist he knew, who works at the paint shop at rk Miles,a local hardware and lumber business, and the trio jammed. That jam raised the curtain on Act 2.

They got a call to play at a party in June 2008 -- and the second coming of Don't Leave had arrived.

"Some said we should be called ‘Won't Leave,' " Romano joked. "When we came back out, we had a refreshed feeling about the band, a renewed energy."

Today, the group is rolling along as strong, if not stronger than ever. It's next show comes on Tuesday, Aug. 5, when it will perform at an annual series of summer concerts on the Manchester town green, hosted by the local chamber of commerce. This appearance follows two well-received performances; one at the Dorset Quarry, the first time a live concert was ever held at the popular swimming spot, and one at the first of two street fairs in Manchester. People danced in the street.

They also do weddings and parties, but it has to be the right fit, Muench said.

"There have been times we've been offered good money for a gig that wouldn't have been in our wheelhouse," Muench said, adding they turn down more gigs than they accept. "Now, it's about the place and the people we're playing for and having another experience."

Today, Muench performs on guitar and vocals, Romano on bass and vocals, Dave Domenick on lead guitar, Greg Snedeker on keyboards, cello and vocals, and Mike Meaney on drums and vocals.

Three-part vocal harmony remains the centerpiece of their sound, he added, noting the influence of early Crosby Stills and Nash on his own musical tastes.

"We've added guitars, keyboards, cello, saxophone, but it all starts with the three vocalists nailing it down before [a song] is presented to the band," he said. "That's the difference between us and a lot of other bands -- others have great musicianship, but we work very hard to get the vocals right first and build the music around that."

Whether a song is going to work or not usually gets sorted out fairly quickly, Romano said. Like Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean" from his breakthrough "Thriller" album of the early 1980s -- that seemed an unlikely fit in their set list, but it felt right. The first time they performed it live, the dance floor filled up and the crowd loved it, he said.

"If it was that bad, we would have found out quick," he added.

Their repertoire includes the range of popular rock from the 1970s to the present. All of them have children, and Muench teaches in a high school, so keeping up with what's new isn't a problem. Now it's all about having fun, both said.

"When you get a tight vocal blend and hear it coming through the monitors, it doesn't get much better than that," Romano said. "When people are responding to it, it's reinforced and that's the reason we've been at this for a long time" -- and a long time yet to come both said.

"We'll keep playing until we stop having fun," Muench said. "When it does become a drag ..." he voice trails off, as if such an idea was incomprehensible.

If you go ...

What: Don't Leave band

Where: Manchester Town Green

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 5

Admission: Free


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