Fox CEO Allan Vella and his ‘Dad band’ warm up the stage for Mighty Mo

The Fox exec, a weekend rock warrior, gets to try out the big stage.

Very few Dad bands get to play a house like the Fox Theatre, where the capacity is 4,665.

That’s why the members of the Grits, a group of middle-aged bros who play classic rock covers for fun on the weekends, are excited, and a little bit scared, of their upcoming gig on the big stage.

“It’s a bigger venue than we usually play,” deadpanned bassist Bo Vaden. “We’re used to carports.”

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

The Grits will open the show Dec. 20 for a night of holiday music featuring Fox organist Ken Double playing the Mighty Möller pipe organ. The evening, which is free of charge, will also include a visit from the Coca-Cola Classic Polar Bear, photo opportunities with Santa and a screening of the 1947 classic “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Admittedly, the Grits have a secret weapon that might have helped them get the prestigious gig: Fox president and CEO Allan Vella happens to be the drummer for the group.

“The staff is aware of my weekend pastime, playing for some of the finest PTA fundraisers,” said Vella, 59.

At one time the members of the Grits all had children in the same school system, and they bonded over Saturday soccer and fundraising dances. The children got older and the members of the Grits disassembled and reassembled in different bands, including the Tiger Kings and the Thrillbillies. All of those bands play Beatles and Stones in moderate rotation, and have been standout features at Porchfest.

At the urging of his staff, Vella got his old band back together for the special holiday evening.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Recently the Grits gathered for a rehearsal to knock the rust off. They met in the Decatur offices of keyboard player/vocalist Jeremy Rhett, who owns a CertaPro painting franchise, and who has his headquarters tricked out with a stage, sound baffles and a built-in PA system.

Rhett, 51, had a question about the chords on the bridge of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Vella suggested that guitarist Terry Cannon, 61, play a little louder. Vaden wanted to hear Vella’s drum intro to the Elvis number, “It’s Christmas Time Pretty Baby,” which had a vocal harmony section that nobody was satisfied with.

“If we can fix it, we’ll keep it,” said Bobby Carter, 53, who plays guitar, harmonica and jingle bells, and does a mean Elvis impersonation. Everyone was happy with the performance of guest saxophonist John Liles.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

In a later interview, Vaden, who sells banking software, said he wasn’t worried about getting the band back in shape; they’ve still got some time to practice. “We’re not there yet, but once we’re prepared, I’m not nervous,” he said.

Fox organist Double will be the main attraction on the evening of Dec. 20, piloting the fabulous Möller organ and leading the audience in sing-alongs of Christmas carols and other old favorites.

Double plans to sit in with Vella’s band for one of their numbers, perhaps “Jingle Bell Rock.” He also plans to temper Mighty Mo’s 3,600 pipes, so as not to drown out his rock ‘n’ roll CEO. “I ain’t going to do anything to overplay the boss,” Double affirmed. “I value my position.”

Vella is delighted to be part of the action. He has a special fondness for the Möller organ, and two years ago oversaw a half-million-dollar initiative to renovate the 90-year-old instrument.

From the beginning of his time at the Fox, Vella has had his eyes on Mighty Mo, and in a quest to improve the theatrical organ’s percussion section, he has seen parts of the Möller that most citizens have not.

When he arrived in 2006 he noticed that the organ’s snare drums sounded flabby. Being a drummer, he wanted to fix that.

(The Möller, like other old-time theatrical organs, can trigger actual percussion instruments — drums, chimes, gongs, mallet percussion — which are harbored in the dusty pipe chambers high up near the Fox’s twinkling ceiling.)

The valuable 1929-era Ludwig drums hadn’t received a check-up since 1929. Vella found some vintage hardware, shinnied up into the pipe chamber, and did some repairs.

More recently, during the pandemic, he returned to the upper chamber, climbing 30 feet of vertical ladders, to give the drums a tune-up. “We removed the snare drum and the bass drum, took them home to my workshop, tore them apart, removed the hardware, cleaned the hardware, changed the heads and oiled the shells,” he said.

It was a reassuring form of therapy. “I found that to be good medicine for me, in very uncertain times,” said Vella. “I was able to get my hands dirty and do something for the Mighty Mo and put my fingerprints on it. And they sound great right now.”

This will be the 17th free holiday concert at the Fox, presented as a gift to the city.

Said Double, “I don’t know of another theater around the country that I’ve been involved with that opens the doors for free to try to say thank you for the incredible support they get from the people of Atlanta.”


EVENT PREVIEW

“Mighty Mo & More!”

7:30 p.m. Dec. 20. Free, limited to six passes per person; everyone must have a ticket. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE. 855-285-8499, FoxTheatre.org.