Hippiefest feat. Dave Mason, Mark Farner, Gary Wright, Rick Derringer & Felix Cavaliere's Rascals Arena Theatre september 2, 2011
The title of this annual touring package show was something of a misnomer, as most of the acts made their FM bones in a harder-rocking '70s than during the Flower Power days of incense and peppermints. Nevertheless, it was a fun, fulfilling juxtaposition of classic rockers whom Houstonians have had sparse chance to see since the advent of CDs.
Opening the show was Felix Cavaliere's Rascals. As the main vocalist and keyboardist whose Hammond B-3 gave the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers the Young Rascals/Rascals their distinctive blue-eyed soul sound, Cavaliere is best suited to carry the band's banner. He is the lineup's only original member.
Like an favorite eccentric Italian uncle, the newsboy-capped and Hawaiian shirt-clad Cavaliere clapped, danced, and exhorted the crowd in great voice with hits like a mellowrific "Groovin'" "People Got to Be Free," and - of course - the singalong-and-organ workout "Good Lovin'."
It was unfortunate that he also spent a large chunk of stage time performing snippets of nearly a dozen overplayed Motown and soul covers. In that wasted time, he could have easily thrown in "A Girl Like You" and "A Beautiful Morning."
Next up was Rick Derringer. The accomplished singer/guitarist/producer has a rock resume deeper than most people know. His guitar shredding and voice were in sync with cooking opener "Still Alive and Well," from his stint with Johnny Winter.
But he also wasted too much of his set talking, as in the long introduction to "Hang On Sloopy" (nonetheless a crowd favorite) from his stint with the McCoys. Curious choices came with some extended noodling on the national anthem, followed by (why?) "Real American," best known as Hulk Hogan's wrestling theme song.
Finale "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo" was inevitable, though it's a shame he bypassed what could have been a killer ending with "Frankenstein" from his Edgar Winter Group release.
The evening's surprise was (who woulda thunk?) Gary Wright. Trim and affable - and brandishing his keytar like a warrior - he shook the Arena with a double-blast of heavy tunes from his old act Spooky Tooth, "Waitin' for the Wind" and "Better By You, Better Than Me" - the latter, which Wright wrote, more famous for its Judas Priest cover version that was also the center of the "heavy metal suicide" trial of the early '90s.
Closing with his two biggest solo hits - a pitch-perfect "Dream Weaver" (which he told the crowd was inspired by an Eastern philosophy book given to him by George Harrison), and a smokin' "Love Is Alive," played with abandon with Derringer as a guest, made Aftermath want to check out more of his music.
Chugging next to the stage was the conductor and engine of Grand Funk Railroad, Mark Farner, who, quite simply, stole the show. He turned in a fiery and energetic set, which found the impossibly fit singer/guitarist clad in tight T-shirt and jeans, shaking his ass like it was 1974 on GFR rockers like "Footstompin' Music," deep cut "Sins's a Good Man's Brother," and the hits "The Loco-Motion," "Bad Time" and "Some Kind of Wonderful."
Farner was simply a stage monster, and by the time he closed with "I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home," the whole place was on its feet, and he gave it enough of a genuine spiritual bent to revive even the corpse of Madalyn Murray O'Hair in admiration.
It seemed impossible that such an amazing show only took up 30 minutes (which, interestingly, was the time all acts played across the board). It was so forceful that Aftermath could forgive the right-wing singer for his parting potshot, "God bless ya'll...and God bless what's left of America."
So while there was no way that the more stationary headliner Dave Mason could match Farner's energy level, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer - inducted with Traffic - mellowed things down a bit, opening with biggest solo hit "We Just Disagree," which segued into "Let it Go, Let it Flow."
With fan favorite '70s bassist Gerald Johnson back in tow, the classic-rock workout continued with Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy," "Only You Know and I Know" and "All Along the Watchtower." The last was preceded by Mason's remembrance of his friend Jimi Hendrix (Mason played acoustic guitar on Jimi's version). And while there was sometimes a sense of roteness in his delivery, it was with a classic sense of coolness.
It wasn't surprising that the set and show closer was "Feelin' Alright," which Mason wrote at 19 and has become a classic-rock staple with dozens of cover versions. Farner and Derringer returned to the stage, whooping it up a bit more perhaps as the Houston date was the last of the tour.
Overall, the sense of joy for both the performers, there often-shared backup musicians, and the audience as the song wound down were palpable. So in the end, Hippiefest actually did deliver the good vibe and feelings that it promised early on in a recorded intro. And that's pretty far out, man.
Personal Bias: Hey, I'm Classic Rock Bob! And I own Spooky Tooth CDs.
The Crowd: Mostly beaming fifty- and sixtysomething couples, with a smattering of Gen Yers (some dressed in hippie garb) and cougars in halter tops.
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Overheard in the Crowd: "Hey, if you shake it more than twice, that's playing with it!" - in the line for the men's restroom
Random Notebook Dump: Four of the five acts thanked or dedicated songs to God and/or the troops.