A few hundred lucky wedding guests got the surprise of their life Saturday (Oct. 8) as R.E.M.’s original four members reunited to play a seven-song set at the wedding of R.E.M. guitar tech Dewitt Burton. The action went down at Kingpins Bowl & Brew in the group’s Athens, Ga., home base and marks just the second time Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills have performed with drummer Bill Berry since his 1997 departure.
“Nobody really knew it was going to happen,” Kingpins owner Ed Connolly tells Billboard.com. “As a matter of fact, I think it was fairly hit and miss up until the time it happened. I heard they didn’t know if Bill was even going to make it, and I don’t know if they had a chance to rehearse.”
Connolly, who has known Burton for years, said the actual wedding band was taking a break when he noticed Stipe and company setting up in the bowling alley’s arcade. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “I was transfixed. I heard the count in and then ‘Sitting Still,’ and by the time they got to the first chorus, it was packed shoulder to shoulder.”
The group went on to play some of its most beloved early tunes: “Don’t Go Back to Rockville” (with Mills on vocals), “Wolves, Lower,” “Begin the Begin,” “The One I Love,” “Permanent Vacation” and “Radio Free Europe.”
“The beauty is that it was in Athens on a warm Saturday night, with the band on the floor with no production,” Connolly says. “I had three old disco mirror balls and they hung them up — that was the extent of the lighting show.”
As for the possibility of the performance seeing commercial release, Connolly says with a laugh, “If it’s cool with [R.E.M. manager] Bertis [Downs], it’s cool with me.”