Last Night: Hippiefest at the Seminole Hard Rock

Categories: Concert Review

Hippiefest
The Turtles featuring Flo and Eddi, Felix Cavaliere's Rascals, Mitch Ryder, The Zombies featuring Colin Blunstone & Rod Argent (Time of the Season), Country Joe McDonald, Mountain featuring Leslie West & Corky Laing, and Badfinger featuring Joey Molland
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
August 2, 2007

Better Than:: Being there the first time around. At least in this case, there was no need to be wary of the brown acid.

The Review:

If Hippiefest had actually been staged during the era in which its participants were in their primes, the whiff of nostalgia permeating these proceedings would more likely have been a whiff of some conspicuous illegal substance instead. As it turned out, Thursday night’s gathering of the tribes at the Hard Rock Live felt more like a high school reunion, albeit one whose attendees were several decades removed from graduation, and, in turn, the wayward excesses of their youth. Or as Howard Kaylan of the Turtles gleefully pointed during the Turtles’ turn on stage, both artists and audience are likely still taking drugs, but instead of acid, weed and cocaine, it’s more likely to be Vicodan and Viagra.

Still, the line-up featured in this edition of Hippiefest’s traveling nostalgia show seemed a bit incongruous, in that it liberally danced around the timelines the hippie era actually entailed. For example, the bulk of the hits claimed by the Rascals and the Turtles, two of the tour’s main draws, predated the so-called Summer of Love, the presumed impetus for gathering these groups and carting them around the country in the first place. When Badfinger and Mountain were in their prime, the hippies’ heyday had already passed. Only Country Joe McDonald, the program’s de facto emcee, was an actual inhabitant of Haight Ashbury, but with his set limited to a mere ten minutes – the shortest of the night – it was all he could do to muster a Woodstock flashback via the infamous Fish Cheer. (“Gimme an’F’! Gimme a ‘U’! Gimme a ‘C’! Gimme a ‘K’! What’s that spell?!”) Yes, kids, your folks were devoted to communal spelling back in the day.

Truth be told, it was left to the Zombies – who, by the way, were arguably the best band of the night if for no other reason than they seemed to reel off their hits without sounding perfectly perfunctory – to claim a true birthright to ‘60s psychedelia. As keyboardist Rod Argent recalled, they were working on their career capper Odyssey and Oracle (from which the single “Time of the Season’ was culled posthumously) at Abbey Road Studios during the exact same time the Beatles were recording their own masterpiece Sgt. Pepper right down the hall. And while Pepper eventually overshadowed every other album of that era, in retrospect, Odyssey and Oracle was almost as exceptional. The current incarnation of the Zombies offers another distinction as well; the way they had morphed allows them to represent two classic combos, in that Rod Argent and bassist Jim Rodford were also instrumental in the formation of Argent. Appropriate then that the latter’s “Hold Your Head Up” should be included among their oldies output.

Sadly though, all any band on the bill could muster was an abbreviated roll call of their biggest hits, given that each group was allotted no more than 35 minutes, with opening act Joey Molland, duly representing his deceased mates in Badfinger, accorded no more than 20, barely enough time to squeeze out four of their more famous songs. Of course, the necessity of presenting six acts in near seamless succession made the time constraints necessary. Still, given the Zombies’ precise performance and the Turtles’ raucous stage show, the half hour format made their sets seem entirely too skimpy. (Note to the Rascals’ Felix Cavaliere: when you’re confined to 35 minutes, better to stick to your own songs and ditch the extended covers medleys.)

Ultimately, Hippiefest is more about the vibe and the continuing vitality of the music than it is about ownership and authenticity. In every case, save Mountain, where two of the three members can claim an original pedigree, these bands boast only one or two original members. That said, kudos to the house band that backed both Molland and Cavaliere literally without losing a beat. “Groovin’” still grooved and even though Molland had to pinch-hit for the late Pete Ham, his take on “Come and Get It” (written, he noted, by Paul McCartney) sounded as infectious as ever. So too, Kaylan and singing partner Mark Volman (AKA Flo and Eddie) may have been the only actual Turtles in attendance, but their rollicking renditions of “You Baby,” “She’d Rather Be With Me.” Eleanor” and of course, the perennial party song, “Happy Together,” retained every ounce of all-out exuberance offered in the originals.

It was left to Mountain to close the show, a somewhat dubious choice considering they were the only real hard rock band on a bill that was mostly predicated on pop. Consequently, their emphasis on volume and metal-like mayhem proved to be much too ponderous for a crowd whose average age was most likely between 50 and 60. By the time they encored with the obligatory “Mississippi Queen,” a good portion of the audience was migrating to the parking lot, a trundle of tie-dye overdosing on exhaustion.

While the cynic might find it all too easy to scoff at Hippiefest for its obvious and inherent commercial exploitation (it was particularly disheartening to witness Country Joe’s unrelenting hawking of Hippiefest tie dyed tees), the lack of free love – or at least reasonably priced love – didn’t negate the fact that the show was a terrifically entertaining package rich in both music and memories. Never mind that its graying audience may have been motivated by the need to cling to its fading flashback of their rapidly receding youth. For all its excesses, the soundtrack of the ‘60s still resonates as one of Rock’s most evocative eras. So kudos to a concert that can rekindle giddy feelings from catchy hooks and ready refrains. In today’s world of pseudo celebrities and disposable pop, those memories are still precious and rightfully needed.

Besides, as the saying goes, if you remember the ‘60s, you weren’t really there. -- Lee Zimmerman

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Loyal listeners of oldies radio were the ones that were beckoned, drawn by a fervent passion that bordered on religious revelation. Rarely does an audience know the words to every song. Only those with an appreciation for sunny melodies – or in Mountain’s case, relentless rock riffing –considered attendance mandatory.

Random Detail: The abundance of tie-dye was striking in and of itself, especially when you consider the ordinary day garb for most of the attendees was likely pin stripes and business suits.

By The Way: Word is the Gulfstream racing track is thinking of reviving its concert series, most of which focused on a similar breed of oldie goldies. Hippiefest enthusiasts could experience a flashback in the very near future.



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