Boffa bows out: Seminal Maine musician bids goodbye to big-band command
FALMOUTH — One of Maine's most prolific popular musicians is taking a final bow.
Tony Boffa, a 63-year-old band leader and former music educator, is stepping down from his flagship nine-piece show-dance band, a Maine institution that has lit up weddings, corporate functions and private events for more than 30 years.
"I look in the mirror and think, 'who wants grandpa playing at their wedding?" Boffa said on a recent Friday evening at his home.
After playing thousands of shows, Boffa will play his final Maine show with the Tony Boffa Band at the Ramada Lewiston Hotel on New Year's Eve. Next summer, Boffa will move to Florida.
Boffa, a businessman as much as he is a musician, said it was his business acumen that eventually convinced him its time to take himself out of the limelight.
"For Tony Boffa Music to continue to supply live music for all occasions, it's time for my ego to get past this and not lead these kind of events," he said.
Now the focus will switch to two of his band mates, Carmine Terracciano and Larry Williams, who have both started their own nine-piece show bands.
The Carmine Terracciano Band is largely a replacement for Boffa's big band, with most of the same members. Terracciano, who works at WEX in South Portland, has played with Boffa for 15 years.
"There's a sense that I'm filling (Boffa's) shoes, so ... I know there will be some comparisons," Terracciano said. "I get that, but I really am focusing on having the band be my band, but keep (the Tony Boffa) philosophy."
The Larry Williams Band features mostly young musicians, who are studying music or have recently graduated from school, along with Craig Skeffington, the band director at South Portland High School. Williams, who is the music director of Poland Regional High School, has played with Boffa for about 12 years.
"There's a whole echelon of work for musicians who have the right attitude," Williams said. "(Those) who are competent, who not only have the skill to play music, but are also scholars."
Boffa, who also taught music at public schools in Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Westbrook, said the expansion of bands is part of a larger plan to provide more opportunities for younger musicians.
"I want people to realize that Carmine and Larry have to continue this legacy and be better," Boffa said. "We have a philosophy in this band: every personnel change we make, the band gets better, no matter who leaves."
That includes Boffa. But don't suggest he is retiring.
Although he has a timer counting down the days until he heads to Florida, he will continue playing weekly shows with his trio and jazz group.
He will also continue to arrange music and work as a promoter for Tony Boffa Music, the umbrella organization for all of his bands.
When that timer reaches zero and he moves to Florida with his wife, Karen Boffa, the retiring principal at Falmouth Elementary School, the weekly gigs won't happen as often.
Boffa said his long-range plan is make connections in the Sunshine State and create more show opportunities for his associate bands. The Tony Boffa Band has already played Florida many times, and will play one last show there on Feb. 1, 2014.
"Since we've been going to Florida, I have not seen a full-blown function band that is as good as us," Boffa said. "They're all niche bands now."
What makes the Tony Boffa Band and its successors stand out, he said, is their versatility and professionalism.
Unlike some bands that might focus on a specific era or style of music, Boffa's bands have more than 2,000 arrangements that span nearly eight decades of music.
"Just the other night we were laughing," Boffa said, referring to a recent show with the band. "We went from AC/DC, to Beyonce, to Frank Sinatra and then three Christmas tunes."
He said the diverse playlists serve a professional function, since the bands play weddings, and corporate and private events, that traditionally have mixed age groups.
It's about "doing the right things to get a 25-year-old on the same dance floor with a 55-year-old," he said. "That's the magic, and that's what Larry and Carmine are going to carry on."
Boffa said he also takes pride his band's attention to logistical details: responding to phone calls the same day, dressing correctly for each occasion, showing up early, playing to the right audience, and being a good host.
"What's made it work for me is impeccable service," he said. "... Musicians forget that this is a service business and the magic's not totally in the music."
The band leader said he was also very careful to make sure every band member gave 100 percent. Otherwise, he said, it's time for them to move on.
One of the former members is Scott Huff, who was a student at the University of Southern Maine when he played with Boffa. He said Boffa was the reason he gained the courage to move out of Maine and find new and bigger opportunities.
Huff is now working in Nashville, Tenn., as a music producer. Since moving, he's had the pleasure of working with country stars Keith Urban and The Mavericks.
"(Boffa) was definitely instrumental in giving me the confidence to move out of state,"Huff said. "He said, 'if you don't break away from this and don't give it a shot now, you won't, so just do it now and follow your dream."
Boffa, who is also the godfather of Huff's children, is a "brilliant man and a tremendous teacher," Huff said, and has been one of the largest, most positive influences in his life.
"His charisma and his intellect, and the care he has for people, that's why he's successful in business and in life," he said. "He makes people feel good."