City’s 20 years come full circle in festival performance

August 29, 2014

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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Contributed Gil Rene, whose band played at the city's incorporation, returns to perform at the 20th anniversary.

Gil Rene, whose band played at the city’s incorporation, returns to perform at the 20th anniversary.

When 2014 Newcastle Days performer Gil René looks in the mirror, it doesn’t quite reflect the image of himself that he has built in his mind.

“In my head, I’m still a 20-year-old rocker with shoulder-length hair and a small waist,” he joked.

Gone are the long tresses, but his pierced ear serves as a reminder of his days in the rock ’n’ roll scene. The longtime Newcastle resident continues to strap on his guitar and put on a show, though, when it doesn’t interfere with his day job as a security camera professional.

His performance at the 2014 Newcastle Days festival represents a full-circle moment in the city’s history. René’s band played at a Lake Boren Park celebration in honor of the city’s incorporation 20 years ago.

He’ll take the park stage solo this time, but the bookend nature of his appearance, as the city celebrates 20 years, is not lost on him.

“Seeing Newcastle grow and change and develop so much, it’s the same place it was 20 years ago, but yet it’s not,” he said. “It’s good to kind of stop and take a look around now and then and that’s, I think, the best thing about anniversaries.”

René has been singing since he was “knee-high to a bar stool.” Born in Canada, he moved to Rochester, New York, when he was 7.

He inherited his musical talent from his father, but it was a crush on a guitar-playing girl that prompted him to pick up the instrument.

“That was my way to try and get next to her,” he said. “Didn’t get anywhere with her, but I did learn to play guitar from it.”

René spent much of his young adulthood with bands, attempting to make a mark in the professional music industry. It didn’t pan out for him, but he has no regrets.

“Did the typical bar scene that every wannabe rock star plays,” he said. “Grew my hair down to my shoulders, then disco came around and clubs were folding left and right.”

Music eventually became more of a hobby than a profession. He has been in a few bands and played at events such as the Bite of Seattle, Newcastle’s Concerts in the Park and Newcastle Days.

When René hits the stage, he’s all about the show. He interacts with the audience and doesn’t worry about mistakes. With his booming voice, he probably doesn’t even need a microphone, but he’ll use one, and he’ll have you in stitches between songs as he effortlessly drops his brand of self-deprecating humor.

“I like to do a mix of what I call classic unplugged rock,” he said. “I throw in original songs and will do some Eagles and Tom Petty.”

René takes the Lake Boren Park stage at 1 p.m. Sept. 6. His set will also be a goodbye of sorts, as he’s moving away from his Windtree neighborhood after more than 20 years in Newcastle.

He’ll miss living in the city and his neighbors, he said, so he’s determined to give them one final awesome show.

“I can’t imagine not performing,” he said. “I’ll play and sing as long as I possibly can, whether or not anybody’s listening, but it’s nicer when somebody’s listening.”

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