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How an ’80s Fanboy Became Headliner of Beech Mountain’s Retro Weekend

Armed with a huge suitcase and several plastic bags packed with authentic clothes from the 1980s, Brandon Kirkley came to Beech Mountain ready for Retro Weekend.

Kirkley, 33, decided in 2013 that he wanted to go to Beech Mountain for the annual weekend celebrating all things ’80s, but he didn’t know how to ski. He and his girlfriend took another year to practice, then asked 14 friends to join them at Beech for Retro 80’s Weekend. Lucky for them, Kirkley had enough gnarly 80’s paraphernalia for everyone.

Brandon Kirkley (third from right) and crew in Beech Mountain. (All photos courtesy of Cassette Rewind)

“I went full-force the entire time. [I was] in character; it was ’80s all the time. I spent weeks on eBay and Etsy looking for the right stuff,” Kirkley said, seemingly unaware that he had just name-dropped one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the decade. “I bought things for my friends.”

Kirkley brought ’80s music and movies for everyone to watch throughout the weekend. His friends went along with it, for his sake.

Each year, the totally rad weekend in Beech Mountain features ’80’s tribute bands, a parade down the slope, an apparel and trivia contest and a Galaga or Pac Man video game tournament. The entire town participates, said Kate Gavenus, director of tourism and economic development in Beech Mountain. There’s even a “secret” apparel contest among the staff who work in town. This year, Retro 80’s Weekend takes place from Feb. 21-24.

The idea for the annual throwback weekend on the mountain was inspired by the 2010 sci-fi comedy flick Hot Tub Time Machine, in which John Cusack and his friends visit a ski resort, where they are transported into the 1980s through a — well, you get it.

“It’s not a great piece of art,” Gavenus said of the film. “The concept of Hot Tub Time Machine was appealing. These people fall asleep in a hot tub and wake up back in time at a ski resort.”

Beech Mountain is a quiet town just two and a half hours away from Charlotte. Its mom- and pop-owned restaurants and shops like Fred’s General Mercantile and Backside Deli, Famous Brick Oven Pizzeria and Holy Smokes BBQ are part of the area’s charm.

Beech Mountain Resort is a short drive from the town. There’s skiing, snowboarding, ice-skating and tubing. The village-like setting features Campfire Café and Beech Mountain Brewing Company. There are cabins, houses and condos for rent at reasonable rates through companies like Emerald Realty and Rentals or online through AirBnB.

Kirkley convinced his friends to return to Beech Mountain’s Retro 80’s Weekend in 2015. While attending a concert that year at Retro 80’s Weekend, Kirkley and a few of his friends decided they could get on stage and play ’80s music.

It wasn’t that crazy of an idea. When Kirkley was a student at UNC Charlotte, he was the lead singer of Brandon Kirkley and the Firecrackers, a band played at Amos’ Southend, toured the South and opened for NEEDTOBREATHE, Bowling for Soup and Ben Rector. Another friend, Daniel Howie, was the front man for Sugar Glyder, doing cross-country tours from 2003 to 2013.

“Let’s give it a go, let’s try it,” Kirkley told his friends. “We’re good enough.”

The five band members called themselves Cassette Rewind. They practiced for a year and created a set list full of cover songs like Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen,” Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance” and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax.”

Cassette Rewind (from left): Vincent Justice, Brand Kirk, Danny Dee, Dave Michael and Don “Hi-C” Hensley.

Cassette Rewind isn’t a parody band, according to Kirkley. They look the part and want to give an authentic ’80s performance. Kirkley dresses head-to-toe ’80s and only wears real tube socks from that decade for the show.

The band members’ stage names are a combination of their real name and something reminiscent of this neon-clad decade: Brand Kirk (The Goonies) on lead vocals and guitar, Danny Dee (Dee Ramone) on lead vocal and keytar, Dave Michaels (George Michael) on lead guitar, Don “Hi-C” Hensley (Don Henley) on bass and Vincent Justice (just because it’s a cool name) on drums.

It was only right that Cassette Rewind’s debut show took place at Beech Mountain’s 2016 Retro 80’s Weekend. Since then, the band has been performing at festivals and concerts in the South, opening for Loverboy last June at the Kannapolis Summer Concerts series.

Cassette Rewind has returned for each of the last three Retro 80’s Weekend. In 2018, they headlined on Saturday night.

“It was incredible,” Kirkley said. “There’s no other ski resort that does something like this. Everyone is dressed in character — everybody is doing whatever they think the ’80s is. That’s just so cool. They’re not just there to hear you play, ‘Don’t Stop Believing,’ they’re there for whatever ride you’re going to give them. We try to give them a hell of a ride.”

Cassette Rewind headlines again at Beech Mountain Resort’s Taproom on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $10.

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