Hello, Heraldonians and welcome to the Fall of my latest Alice-Through-The-Looking-Glass adventures! This month will actually be just one MIS-adventure and the quest to get it right!
Huey Lewis & The News – Mountain Winery, Saratoga 9/28/12
For those of you uninitiated, I have a long-standing history with the Bay Area “hometown boys made REAL good” band Huey Lewis and The News dating back to the tender age of 18… (see my very first “Almost Famous” installment from 2001 http://www.sanfranciscoherald.net in the 1998-2005 archives for the backstory…it’s a classic!).
From the City By The Bay, to LA, to the Big Apple and all points in between (except Nashville, never saw them there – although Alex Call moved and still lives there – who wrote “The Power Of Love” and “Perfect World” for Huey and used to be in the band Clover with him - another recent “Almost Famous” subject gone by) – our paths have crossed back ‘n forth through several lifetimes and it is always good to see them. Last time was on my 50th birthday in 2010 at a casino near Palm Springs, CA – Huey got us amazing seats and we got to hang out a bit with everyone after - a true full-circle moment for me.
SO – this year I found out they were playing at Mountain Winery – a beautiful, picturesque venue in Saratoga (where I last reviewed Jeff Bridges) – on August 31, four days after my actual birthday! Could I repeat history and reunite with Huey and the Boys again? Why, yes, I could! Huey did not hesitate to say okay, although he cautioned me that “it would be a zoo” backstage because it was a hometown show. No problem! I was game! Little did I know what kind of crazy zoo story this would turn out to be…
So I scooped up my landlady and gal pal Anna Marie Jones and we headed down south to our fairy tale location in the Saratoga hills. Everything went according to plan, although it was unseasonably cool that night. We were freezing our !@#es off! And spending $15 on a hamburger! But we looked mah-ve-lous so who cares??
Anna Marie and I before the 8/31/12 “show”
We decided to skip the opening act and just hang out up in the Pavilion area until the main event. Our seats were amazing, 5th row stage left near the sound board. Literally moments before the band was about to take the stage, as the lights were flashing and everyone was settling down in their seats, a woman came out and began to make an announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention? I regret to inform you that Huey Lewis has suddenly taken ill and cannot perform tonight. The show has been cancelled and will be rescheduled. Hold onto your tickets and parking passes. Please leave the theatre now.”
Was this some kind of really lame joke?? Were Huey and the boys gonna leap upon the stage in the next heartbeat?? It was SO surreal. Collective jaw-dropping and gasping could be seen and heard throughout the packed amphitheatre.
Nope. No joke. Apparently, the “Heart Of Rock ‘N Roll” was beating out of time and had to be rushed to the hospital STAT.
Now, I was aware Huey had some heart issues from a few years ago and those of us that knew him were extremely worried. But true to form, the man just took it in stride and proceeded to take another lickin’ and keep on tickin’, bouncing right back and insisting on still “Workin’ For A Livin’”, telling me in an e-mail the next day that he would reschedule “in a few weeks”! And that he did – just a month later on September 28!
So like déjà vu all over again we made our trek back down to the scene of the crime of the heart and hoped for the best on all counts. It was a lot warmer, so that was a good sign. This time we were third row from the stage! There were a lot of empty seats and we wondered how full the house was going to get. We did catch the opening act, Brian Bergeron, a cute, young, local kid with a lotta heart but not much in the way of hooks – I don’t recall one note or actual chorus, the songs just all kind of meandered along. Pleasant enough, though, and some funny stage patter.
By the time the show was about to start, the house was full and the anticipation was high. The familiar heart beat sound began, gearing us up for the opening song which HAD to be “The Heart Of Rock ‘n Roll” as the lights came up and the full band complete with horn section and female background singers slammed into action! Huey looked healthy as a horse and what THIS audience of mostly loyal returnees and some Huey newbies were treated to was a full-on, high energy, joyful and exuberant celebration of almost every single one of their smash hits, some old school R&B classics off their latest Soulsville album from 2010, and even a hip, little vocal set where original members Sean Hopper (B-3/keyboards), Bill Gibson (drums), and Johnny Colla (sax/guitar) jumped off their instruments and joined Huey front and center along with some of the newer dudes. All the bases were covered – NOBODY was phoning it in, especially the leader of this pack – Huey gave it all as if he was on a mission to make it clear he was back to the future 100% and then some! He jumped up on the speakers to take harmonica solos, ran around to every inch of that stage just like it was three decades ago, and even did his trademark blue-eyed soul white boy dance steps throughout. The sistah background singers added a new, classy dimension to the formerly “Boys Only” ship. I want that gig, man!
We heard all the usual suspects: “I Want A New Drug”, “Heart & Soul”, “Perfect World”, “Jacob’s Ladder” ( a personal fave of mine) – with lots of old soul songs in between like “Respect Yourself” and “Some Kind Of Wonderful” which are the ones closest to Huey’s heart.
And there were still some more surprises in store for ME. As soon as the band hit the stage, I looked up at the guitar player and saw it was NOT the guy who usually plays with them now, Stef Birnbaum (or is it Burns?). I immediately recognized him as James Harrah, a great guitar player I knew back in ‘80s LA, who played with Madonna and a gazillion other major artists! What were the odds that he’d be playing with Huey now?? He looked and sounded better than ever and fit right in.
James Harrah on lead guitar – my old pal from LA!
It was all tons of nostalgic fun and still I wondered…would Huey just power of love through the show without addressing the elephant in the room: the reason he had to cancel the last show?? Would he tell us how was his heart of rock ‘n roll was holding up?
He did not disappoint. With humility and loads of charm, mid-show he just started talking, teasing us, “When you knew that I’d gone to the hospital, and they announced that the gig was canceled, what was the reaction? Let me guess… was it a compassionate kind of, ‘awwww…’ Is that what followed the announcement? Poor Huey, that was the first thing you thought, wasn’t it?“ After some good-natured audience reaction, he asked, “Nobody booed, did they?” to which we all shouted “Noooo!“ He apologized and asked how many of us had returned for the make-up show. When the majority of the audience raised their hands and cheered, he just quietly said, “I don’t know what to say”, obviously moved. Huey Lewis was blown away by his fans after all these years. A lovely, real moment.
He also asked us how many of us were 1st timers and I think we were as surprised as he to see hands going up throughout the packed house. Huey quipped, “I’m a little bit surprised, but I suppose I should be… because let’s be honest, we’ve only been around for 34 years… we’ve only played down here in South Bay, I’ll bet no more than three or four hundred gigs… I’ll bet we haven’t played here [at Mountain Winery] more than fifty times…”…but it was crystal clear he was genuinely moved by the whole thing and completely invested in treating us all like old friends.
We were all up on our feet toward the end and Huey seemed to be playing more toward our side of the stage, which was delicious. Anna Marie insisted she caught a moment between us, but I must have missed that, too busy being 18 again! At one point he leapt off the stage (!!) and gave a girl in a wheelchair in the front row a kiss and then jumped back on stage, never missing a beat! Heart attack, schmart attack, indeed!
A couple of cool shots of the Mountain Winery audience and stage
Huey givin’ us his ALL throughout the 90 minute-plus set –looking fit ‘n fired up and definitely workin’ for a livin’!
Original members (who I knew back in the day) Johnny Colla (sax/ rhythm guitar), Bill Gibson (drums), and Sean Hopper (B3/keyboards)
New addition background singers (whose names I did not get, although I know one is from Memphis and one is an Oakland gal), James Harrah on guitar, and a great shot of the vocal portion of the show with the horns in the back!
When they came back out for the encore, Huey quipped, “It’s 10:04. Do you know how old I am? It’s 10:04!” Audience members were yelling out song titles and Huey actually seemed to be taking them into consideration. “So many hits, so little time!” he joked. The band then went into a huddle to discuss what they were going to do, like they were back in a small club like Uncle Charlie’s – the club in Corte Madera I used a fake ID to get into to see them when I was 18 – and it was right before last call. Sweet. The whole concert had elements of that nightclub feeling - except much to my dismay, they didn’t do any songs off their actual first record no one heard: Huey Lewis & The News, which contains all the songs I used to love to hear them play live at Uncle Charlie’s. They sometimes throw a few in, like “Trouble In Paradise” – check it out on YouTube! I still believe those were their BEST songs…
But they did give us a helluva an encore anyway, which included more hits like “If This Is It”, another slammin’ harp solo from Huey, and ended the show with “Workin’ For A Livin’”, which was certainly all above and beyond the call of rock ‘n roll duty.
After the show, we made our way to the backstage area and it was pretty much a “zoo” like Huey promised: a hometown show with lots of friends and folks waiting for their photo ops, myself included. I did manage to have a few minutes and hugs from pals keyboard player Sean Hopper, who told me about his girlfriend in Minneapolis (go, Sean!) and drummer Bill Gibson, who yelled “KIM!!” when he realized he recognized me and even went out of his way to go downstairs and get my bud James Harrah after I told him I knew him from LA! What a mensch. Had a nice visit with him too – a blast from the past within my blast from the past!
Me and my pals Sean Hopper (keyboards), Bill Gibson (drums) and James Harrah (guitar)…where was Johnny Colla (sax/guitar)??
Meanwhile, Huey made his way backstage, donning a lime green parka (that eerily matched my dress!) and saw me, gave me a quick kiss and asked if I had gotten in okay, and then said “Good, good, I’m glad you’re here, gotta keep workin’!” and made off to work the rest of the room. He looked exhausted. But he was still a man on a mission, with the work ethic of a guy half his age and twice the strength of his still beatin’ heart. Still, I was on a mission too, to get that picture with the guy who told me “You’re gonna be THIS big!” with his arms stretched out as far as they would go when I was 18, the guy I looked up to back in the day like he was Elvis…
So Anna Marie and I patiently waited and of course, I had to make sure she crossed it off her bucket list too! I asked Huey how he was holding up and he said “Okay. But I gotta get up at 6am,” and my Jewish guilt/mother genes kicked in and I wanted to distance myself from the video vultures ASAP. Still, we got our man to say cheese and went on our way, mission accomplished! Thanks, Huey – YOU are the ultimate gentleman – and true MENSCH!!
Anna Marie’s “bucket list” moment with Huey
But THIS is my favorite pic of all – not so great technically – but kinda says it all…
And that’s it for now, faithful readers…hope you enjoyed that as much as I did…stay tuned for my Winter Wonderland next time!! ###