August 18, 2011
DTE Energy Music Theater
On a warm Thursday evening, I travelled an hour up I-75 to attend Hippiefest 2011 at the old Pine Knob, corporately renamed years ago as the DTE Energy Music Theater. Hippiefest has been going on for a few years, the idea being to group four or five performers from the ‘60’s or ‘70’s together and have them perform concise sets, thereby eliminating the filler tunes that often bog down longer concerts of more seasoned acts. At tonight’s show, each act did about half an hour.
At the start of the show, while there were a decent amount of people on the grass (I mean the lawn seating), those in the pavilion were few and far between. By the end of the night, most of the seats were filled. It was a mixed crowd of middle-aged, suburban types, younger kids who were either with their folks or on a ‘60’s lark, and a few old counter-culture holdouts that were still letting their freak flags fly. There was plenty of tie-dye and everyone seemed up for it.
The night kicked off with Felix Cavaliere former lead singer of The (Young) Rascals. He accompanied himself on his well-known Hammond B3 backed by a band that played for most of the evenings’ performers. Felix was in fine voice as he won over the slowly entering audience. He opened with (I’ve Been) Lonely Too Long, segueing into In The Midnight Hour with a few riffs of Sly and the Family Stone and Michael Jackson tossed in. In fact, his style is to start with a verse or two and a chorus of a Rascals’ song followed by a line or two of tribute to other musicians.
I don’t know if he specifically catered to the Detroit crowd, but there were a lot of Motown lines added. Groovin’ was augmented by a Temptations medley while my Rascals’ favorite, People Got to be Free, morphed into Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ No Where to Run. The people seemed to respond to Mr. Cavaliere’s appreciation of Detroit’s legacy, and by the time he finished his set with Good Lovin’, he met with warm applause and cheers.
Rick Derringer was up next, opening with Still Alive and Well. The crowd liked the music, but a few appeared confused hearing Jesus mentioned in the lyrics. A tribute, of sorts, to “the troops” began with a distortion-laden version of Star-Spangled Banner, followed by Real American, which some of you might recall as Hulk Hogan’s WWF theme song. After being treated to Hang On Sloopy (which Rick recorded with The McCoys at age 17), he ended his set with his biggest hit, Rock and Roll, Hootchie-Coo, joined by Gary Wright on keyboards. The audience responded well to Mr. Derringer’s guitar pyrotechnics and gave him a good send off.
The aforementioned Gary Wright began with a couple tunes from his days with the band, Spooky Tooth, the best of which was Better By You, Better Than Me. His songs were longer than the other artists of the evening with plenty of instrumental solos, although there seemed to be issues with his electronic keyboards throughout. The crowd favorites were Dream Weaver and his final song, Love Is Alive. He was joined on Alive by Rick Derringer, who saved his best guitar solo of the night for this song.
After a short break, the night was wrenched into high gear by a Michigan native, the fabulous Mark Farner. He began on keyboards with Footstompin’ Music, being joined by the crowd on the “woo-ooo-oos,” before cranking up his guitar for The Loco-Motion. Mark’s performance was filled with energy, as he danced about the stage like a madman. His vocal ability hasn’t faded in the slightest; he’s still one of the greatest natural rock vocalists – ever! He was especially able to showcase his singing on Bad Time (To Be in Love), the only tune of the night that wasn’t “full steam ahead.” Several other Grand Funk Railroad songs were included, and when he finished with his set with I’m Your Captain/Closer To Home, the crowd burst into rousing applause and a standing ovation.
Well done, Mr. Farner.
The night’s last performer was Dave Mason. Let me retract that. I should say musician, instead of performer. His over 50 years in the business really showed: Dave’s set was the most musical of the evening. He brought out his own people to back him and it made a difference.
He began with a few songs he recorded with Traffic, which he co-founded at age 18. Let It Go, Let It Flow and Dear Mr. Fantasy were both rich, melodic tunes with fine harmonies by the band. When he hit the 12-string chords for We Just Disagree, the people cheered and sang the entire song with him. After a fine Only You Know and I Know, I moved up into the crowd on the lawn to join the swaying, dancing masses experiencing a truly great version of All Along the Watchtower (Mr. Mason played acoustic guitar on the Jimi Hendrix recording).
For the final song of the night, Dave was joined on stage by most of the other acts for his classic, Feelin’ Alright, which has been covered by many including Grand Funk and Joe Cocker. It was an appropriate rap-up tune since it appeared to convey the sentiments of both artists and audience: a good time was had by all . . .