The musician celebrates a landmark birthday by getting together with a half-dozen of his past bands

Think of the ways you might want to celebrate turning 50. Perhaps you’d have a quiet, intimate dinner with family and friends. Or maybe you’d jet off to some far-away, long-dreamed-of locale. Alternately, you could spend weeks rehearsing decades-old songs in order to man the drums for a half-dozen of the bands that you’ve made music with over the past 25-odd years, which is how Dan Bell is opting to mark the milestone.

“You get to these big, monumental [birthdays] … and I started thinking, ‘What have I done most of my life?’ And it’s play music. Let’s see if I can get everybody together I played in a band with,” said Bell, who managed to rope together almost every group he’s played with for a concert at Rumba Cafe on Saturday, March 7, including Punchbug, the Last Hotel, Stonevelvet, Templeton, Miranda Sound and Van Haken. “Some of us haven’t even played together in more than 20 years, but I thought it would be fun to get everyone together … and play the music while we still can.”

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All of the bands ended on good terms, though the Last Hotel, led by singer/songwriter Ryan Horns of Paper Airplane, never received the same proper send-off as the rest. “We were working on a record and we just kind of called it quits,” said Bell, who started playing music after graduating from dentistry school in 1996. “All these other bands had a chance to do a final show and everybody had that chance to realize, ‘Hey, it’s time to move on.’ … I’m going to play it off as if this is that final show for the Last Hotel that we never had. Don’t anyone ask us to play again. This is it.”

Bell said he expects to play eight or so songs with each group, and possibly a few more with Van Haken and Templeton. “Being 50, I don’t want to push it too much to where I need a defibrillator on stage to get my heart started again,” he cracked.

Preparing for the concert has been akin to time traveling, with Bell logging hours listening to some songs he hadn’t revisited in more than a decade (a couple of the bands, including Miranda Sound and Van Haken, still gig on occasion). “There were some songs I didn’t even remember playing on,” he said, and laughed. “They were almost foreign to me.”

At the same time, Bell jokes that he has the easiest job that evening. “I talked to somebody who was like, ‘Ehh, you just hit things. You’ll be fine,’” he said. “It’s easy for the drummer, I guess. It’s just going through each band and remembering what we did. … There is some muscle memory that kicks in. Or at least we’ll see, right?”

And even if there is the odd musical miscue, it won’t detract from the experience Bell has had in reconnecting both with the music and more importantly his former bandmates in the run up to the concert.

“It’s like not enough time has passed that we’ve forgotten how to play, but it’s been enough time that we’ve really had to reach back into our memories and remember what each of these bands was about,” he said. “I can’t thank everyone enough.”