Live: Hippiefest 2011

ARENA THEATER — 9/2/2011: On Friday, September 2nd, Houston was served up a wonderful and reflective night of peace, love, and retro-fitted classic rock from the ’60s and ’70s, as “Hippiefest 2011” came groovin’ into the Arena Theater on the way toward finishing-up a summer tour of several Southern states. This year’s artist lineup featured Felix Cavaliere, Rick Derringer, Gary Wright, Mark Farner, and Dave Mason, all of whom were showcased as artists who have in the past recorded, performed, or written songs or albums that sold in excess of 100 million copies.

Show opener Felix Cavaliere, formerly of the Young Rascals and a fairly recent inductee into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, rolled out a handful of previous hits and covers that put him into the company of some of the original artists to be tagged with the designation “blue-eyed soul.”

From the very first song of the night, “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” the intimate setting of the Arena venue was transported back to 1967 and the very onset of the Haight-Ashbury era that eventually encompassed much of the politico-philosophical fodder for the launching of the successful influx of more Eastern musical influences into the foundations of pop and rock-n-roll music established during the ’50s and early ’60s. Seizing the moment amidst an audience craving this return, he exuberantly added “Groovin’,” “People Got To Be Free,” a cover of Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour,” and closed with the Rascal’s 1966 chart-busting song “Good Lovin’.”

Next on stage, long-time guitarist extraordinaire Rick Derringer ushered the scene back to the music that made him an icon during the ’70s, kicking right off the bat into a rousing rendition of “Still Alive And Well.” In a night also dotted with patriotism, the crowd came to its feet as Derringer fretted-out his own instrumental, chorded version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” leading into his personalized anthem “Real American.”

After a brief transport back to 1965 and an enthusiastic, crowd-pleasing replay of “Hang On Sloopy” from his days with The McCoys, Derringer closed his segment with a fantastic guitar solo that led into the much-anticipated “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,” one of the crown jewels of his classic rock repertoire.

Next up was Gary Wright, who unabashedly exhibited his unique talent as both a performer and writer. Armed during most of the show with a keyboard-guitar-combined “keytar,” Wright belted out former Spooky Tooth numbers “Waitin’ For The Wind” and “Better By You, Better By Me” (a Judas Priest song written by Wright). The highlight of his part in the show was a spectacular and thoroughly surreal return to his 1976 solo career signature song “Dream Weaver” that edged seamlessly into the final “Love Is Alive.”

The next act was definitely one of the high spots of the evening’s entertainment lineup, as former Grand Funk Railroad frontman Mark Farner took the stage and injected his own personal energy into a powerhouse set of past musical memorabilia. “Footstompin’ Music” transformed the Arena into a mass of dancing and movement, followed closely on its heels by more pop-oriented plays on “The Locomotion” and “Some Kind Of Wonderful.”

The harder-cored “Sin’s A Good Man’s Brother” was an exciting and unexpectedly obscure addition, which displayed Farner’s continued ability as a fantastic performer in terms both of guitar technique and extremely powerful vocals. He ended his show with a completely nostalgic venture back into “Closer To Home (I’m Your Captain),” with its hauntingly-beautiful melody and lushly-enveloping orchestral backgrounds.

The headlining act was famed softer-rock icon Dave Mason, whose mainstream career included not only a former teaming with Traffic, but also an enviable solo career after leaving the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame group. He topped off the night with a set full of songs gleaned from both his own handiwork and also the many collaborative projects when he was fortuitously involved with some of rock music’s great superstars, like “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” “Only You Know and I Know,” “We Just Disagree,” and Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” as a nod toward his own personal hero, Jimi Hendrix.

For the final song of the night, all of the former acts’ members returned to the stage to combine their talents with Mason for “Feelin’ Alright,” a signature piece written by Mason, popularized later by Joe Cocker, and curiously enough, also covered by Grand Funk Railroad on their Survival album. A superb end to a great overall show.

Though some might wince a little at calling this tour “Hippiefest,” since it certainly covered as much ’70s classic rock material as late ’60s stuff, it was still a really great night of memorable music pulled off amazingly well by artists who still demonstrate that they haven’t really lost any of their pizzazz as the years have gone by. END

Live review by . Live review posted Wednesday, September 14th, 2011. Filed under Features, Live Reviews.

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