Success is crowding in on busy, talented Tesh What's happening off track PREAKNESS CELEBRATION

THE BALTIMORE SUN

"It's not easy. It's getting to the point where something's going to explode -- probably my head," says John Tesh.

But the composer/musician, who is also co-host of television's "Entertainment Tonight," sounds more enthusiastic than weary describing his multimedia activities, in a telephone interview in advance of his performance tomorrow at the U.S. Healthcare Music Fest '95.

The jazz festival, being held tomorrow and Sunday at Rash Field in the Inner Harbor, is one of the major events of Preakness Celebration '95, which is exploding with a week of events before next Saturday's running of the Preakness Stakes.

Opening ceremonies for Preakness Celebration are scheduled at p.m. today, with a hot-air balloon ascension from Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville. That event also launches the Continental Airlines Country Music BalloonFest, a three-day country music festival at Oregon Ridge that kicks off at 7 p.m. today with singer Sammy Kershaw.

The annual Bud Light Nights, a nightly block party on Water Street downtown, also begins tonight.

One of the Preakness prep week's oldest events -- The First National Bank Hot Air Balloon Race -- lifts off at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow. And the Preakness Parade, returning after a one-year absence, proceeds along Charles and Pratt streets beginning at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

Also, in an announcement made this week, planners of the NationsBank Triple Crown Ball, a black-tie cocktail reception and dinner dance Thursday at the Stouffer Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, said the Temptations will perform at the event. (The ball benefits the CollegeBound Foundation.)

Mr. Tesh is perhaps the best-known name appearing at the new jazz festival on Rash Field, although not necessarily for his music. He concedes that his visibility on "Entertainment Tonight," the daily television show where he's worked since 1986, might draw people to hear his music for the first time. His performance at the keyboard, with an eight-piece band behind him, is scheduled at 2 p.m. tomorrow.

"People feel comfortable with me because of 'ET,' " he says. But, he notes, "nobody who's not interested in this kind of music is going to come just because of that."

What kind of music?

Mr. Tesh does not call it jazz, in part because, "you say jazz and it scares . . . people, who think it's a bunch of musicians jamming for six hours."

Rather, he says his music mixes jazz elements, rock elements and even some "neo-classical" styles. "I just say it's instrumental music."

Despite his familiarity from "ET," and before that as a CBS sportscaster, Mr. Tesh says music has always been his deepest interest. He grew up on Long Island, N.Y., where he studied piano and played trombone in the New York State Youth Symphony, and also played in several rock bands. "I was a serious musician. My parents thought I would starve," he says.

He studied music and communications at North Carolina State University and worked in radio and TV in Raleigh, Orlando and Nashville before landing in New York as an anchor reporter on WCBS-TV, from which he joined CBS Sports.

How does he manage his activities? "I've been telling them [at 'ET'], 'You can have the money, I need more vacation time,' and they've been good about letting me off," he says, noting the Baltimore performance is the first stop on a three-week tour.

Preakness Week schedule of events

The Preakness Celebration is more than just a horse race. From concerts to a hot-air balloon race, there's plenty to do this week. Here's a schedule of events:

Today

* Preakness Celebration '95 Opening Ceremonies. Hot air balloons lift off at 5:30 p.m. from Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville. Also, Continental Airlines Country Music BalloonFest kicks off with live music from country singer Sammy Kershaw at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the gate.

* Bud Light Nights (through May 19, excluding May 14) on Water Street in downtown Baltimore, from 5:30 p.m. to midnight. This outdoor block party features live music each night. Tickets are $3 or $2 with a Preakness Passport.

Saturday

* First National Bank Hot Air Balloon Race at Druid Hill Park at 6:30 a.m. More than 50 balloons are expected to participate. Free.

* Fila/Foot Locker Preakness 5-K Run on Charles and Pratt streets downtown. Entry is $12 in advance, $15 on race day. The race starts at 9:45 a.m.

* Preakness Parade steps off on Charles Street and moves east on Pratt Street, starting at 10 a.m.

* Continental Airlines Country Music BalloonFest at Oregon Ridge (noon to 9 p.m. and May 14 from noon to 7 p.m.). Saturday: Wild at Heart (3:30 p.m.), Martina McBride (5 p.m.) and Collin Raye (7 p.m.); Sunday: the Navy Country Band (1 p.m.) and Marty Stuart (4 p.m.). Saturday evening also showcases the Crown Petroleum BalloonGlow spectacular, and Sunday features "Flights of Fantasy" for Mother's Day. Tickets are $10 per day in advance, $15 at the gate.

* U.S. Healthcare Music Fest '95 (noon to 9 p.m. and May 14 from noon to 7 p.m.). Concerts at Rash Field. Saturday: John Tesh (2 p.m.), King Creole and the Coconuts (4:15 p.m.), Wynton Marsalis (8 p.m.); Sunday, Norman Brown (1 p.m.), Little Feat (2:30 p.m.), Dr. John (4:15 p.m.), David Benoit (6 p.m.) and Tom Scott (7:30 p.m.). Tickets are $10 per day in advance, $15 at the gate.

May 14

* Hot Air Balloon Race at Oregon Ridge, 6:30 a.m. Free.

May 15

* Area nightclubs feature national and local rock bands (through May 20). Reduced cover charges for those with a Preakness Passport. The week's highlight (May 19) features Debbie Harry, formerly of Blondie, and the band Urban Blight, at "Club Preakness," a transformed harborside warehouse at 500 Key Highway. Tickets are $60 in advance and $75 at the door. The event, to be held from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., is a benefit for the Grant-A-Wish Foundation and the Children's House at Johns Hopkins. Call (410) 242-1549.

May 16

* Pee Wee Preakness gives the children a go at the Preakness Stakes, starting at noon at Rash Field. Clowns, jugglers and sports mascots cheer them on. Free.

May 18

* NationsBank Triple Crown Ball, a black-tie cocktail reception and dinner dance at the Stouffer Renaissance Harborplace Hotel. Tickets are $275 per person.

May 20

* Preakness Stakes. Infield tickets, $15 in advance, $20 at the gate. Grandstand tickets, $12. Clubhouse tickets, $15. Gates open at 8:30 a.m.

The Preakness Passport entitles its bearer to preferred status at many Preakness events. Available at participating retailers throughout the area. For information on Preakness events, call (410) 837-3030.

You can hear excerpts of John Tesh with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra if you call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the 4-digit code 6233. For other local Sundial numbers, see the SunSource directory on Page 2A.

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