It was a simpler time. Gerald Ford was bumbling his way around the White House. The Bicentennial was not living up to expectations. Paul McCartney was crooning "Silly Love Songs."

And in Hartford in 1976, the first of NRBQ"s Moon Pie Festivals was held.

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Moon Pies, the fruit of a Chattanooga, Tenn., bakery, were ubiquitous in the South, but merely a novelty up North, where Little Debbie was queen.

But it was also the celebrated in "RC Cola and a Moon Pie," an anthem by NRBQ -- the beloved and versatile rock band that garnered critical raves and commercial obscurity as it strove to blend everything from Sun Ra to Sun Records.


The "Q has been a longtime favorite locally, since it tapped a couple of regional musicians -- Windsor"s Al Anderson, already a local star from his days with the Wildweeds, and drummer Tom Ardolino from Springfield.

With Terry Adams from Louisville, Ky., and Joey Spampinato from New York, the band"s Moon Pie fests grew bigger each year to the point that the 40-member Windsor High School band was on the bill, playing an arrangement of "Ridin" in My Car."

"It was the biggest event that Hartford ever saw," Adams boasts over the phone from upstate New York. "We had wrestlers there -- this was before rock "n" wrestling was sickening. We had all kinds of stuff."

But when the Windsor High band was forbidden to play there in a subsequent year (because alcohol was served), the festival was dropped after 1980.

"We had them every year for five years in a row," Adams says. "The last one was so big, we couldn"t top it."

Despite the comeback of NRBQ spring weekend festivals at the Windsor Court Hotel the past few years, under the name "Big Al"s Big Thing," this is the first time the Moon Pie Festival has been revived there as "the beginning of a new era," says Adams.

Not only is it the 20th anniversary of the song, it"s the 75th anniversary of the Lookout Moon Pie.

Fifteen thousand Moon Pies are being baked today to be shipped to the Moon Pie Festival in Windsor Locks Friday and Saturday. One will be given free to each attendee, along with a slug of good old RC Cola, which to author Adams may have been a bigger inspiration for the song.

"There"s a friend of the family named Ray Collins involved -- dig the initials," he says. "And my cousin, Ronnie Collier, worked for him, so we had the R.C. factor already."

Weirder yet, the two R.C.s worked at the RC bottling company in Mayking, Ky.

"They"d let me pull bottles right from the assembly line," says Adams. Not that they tasted too good so fresh. "They weren"t quite cool enough."

Adams at the time was a bit of an RC Cola afficionado. "Back then, I drank RCs, like two or three 16-ounce ones a day," he says.

But those days are long gone. "I don"t drink the stuff anymore," he says. "It"s bad for you. I"d much rather have carrot juice. And if I have to get the kick, I just go for sparkling water. That"s the same thrill."

But if he did drink soft drinks, he adds, "I"d go back to RC. They"re the only cola not in a war. They"re a peaceful cola."

An RC Cola and a Moon Pie must be quite a delicacy, right?

"It depends if you can stand that much sweetness," Adams says. "That"s, like, up to the individual. With RC, I"d usually go for peanut butter. Nowadays, it would be almond butter. Almond butter is the nut butter of choice, which has nothing to do with this festival."

No, music is what this festival is about. And two horn players from Sun Ra"s Arkestra, Tyrone Hill and Dave Gordon, will join the Whole Wheat Horns in backing NRBQ this weekend, Adams says. And polka bands will open the show each night.

"We figure that people are sick of rock "n" roll," says Adams. "I am. That"s why we"re bringing in polka."

Even so, NRBQ figures into rock"s biggest current job opening, as Adams confirms that Keith Richards has spoken to Spampinato about taking the Bill Wyman spot in the Rolling Stones. Richards had Spampinato help him back Chuck Berry for the anniversary concert that became the film "Hail! Hail! Rock "n" Roll."

In other "Q news, the band is in the studio, completing five tunes so far for an album due out on Rhino Records in the fall; a collection of the very early, pre-Anderson NRBQ tunes, including 10 undreleased tracks, is due out from Sony in May.

Big Al has been busy writing a dozen new songs in his Windsor home studio, which he is peddling around Nashville. One was co-written with John Hiatt, another recorded by Carlene Carter for her new album. And Adams will produce a second album for zydeco"s Boozoo Chavis.

Meanwhile, the Moon Pie Festival this weekend may be a kind of prototype.

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"We"re going to tour the Moon Pie Festival eventually, and we"re just getting warmed up here," says Adams. If the festival goes on the road as planned, "we"ll come back and do it again, so the Connecticut people can see the beginning and the end of the tour," he says.

"If you haven"t ever had a Moon Pie, this is a good chance to get one. It"s a lot cheaper than flying down to Tennessee."

NRBQ"s Moon Pie Festival is Friday and Saturday nights at the

Windsor Court Hotel, Exit 41 off I-91 in Windsor Locks. Tickets are $11 in advance, $13 at the door. Doors open at 8 p.m.; music starts at 9 p.m. Ray Henry opens Friday, Joe Menko Saturday. NRBQ and the Whole Wheat Horns take the stage each night at 11. Proof of age 21 is required. For information, call 623-9811