Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sing a Song or Line Hell

I can't say I wasn't warned.

When I heard that Earth, Wind and Fire were playing Innsbrook, my reaction was immediate. Must go.

Even after I was warned of what a nightmare the whole experience is, I ignored it and bought a ticket. Worse, I invited one of my favorite people to join me.

Moira and I hadn't seen each other since our epic trip to Washington back in mid-August and tonight was the only night this week we could both make it. Besides, only another child of the '70s would appreciate standing in a field listening to old school funk and soul.

The problem was we were Innsbrook neophytes with no idea how long it would take us to get there on rush hour-clogged 64.

Or how long we'd sit in stopped traffic on Cox Road before finally making it into a parking lot.

We couldn't have known that the line just to buy tokens with which to purchase food and drink would stretch out of the tent. Or that we'd then have to join another line to have our IDs checked and get a wristband.

On some level, we probably knew that the line to get beer would be long but at least it moved quickly. Although I don't drink beer, I opted out of wine, not willing to risk another wait for god only knows what kind of swill.

But there was no way for us to be prepared for the food lines which stretched halfway across the field to the stage. Rejecting chains such as Papa John's and Sticks, we got in line for Halligan's, at least hoping to support the local.

The line was an exercise in patience, moving incrementally infrequently.

The only saving grace was the couple in front of us celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary and looking for conversation.

With endless time in front of us, I asked for the story of their romance, learning that they'd met at Bird in Hand and that he'd been on crutches (my question being, why would anyone on crutches go to a club?).

At the end of the night, he asked for her name and she'd told him (but hadn't spelled it) and walked away, sure he'd never figure out how to spell her obscure Italian name.

Needless to say, he called a friend or six until someone knew her and could give him the correct spelling to look her up in the phone book.

You see, kids, this is how people courted in the olden days before cell phones. It actually took some effort and ingenuity.

Moira and I made the most of our time chatting with strangers, making it all the way to third in line when Earth, Wind and Fire finally took the stage singing "Boogie Wonderland."

And while the two of us turned around, transfixed to finally be hearing the reason for our foray into this no-man's land, most of the people around us in line went right on talking and shouting at each other as if the main attraction hadn't begun.

Because there were a bazillion people at the show, they'd put up a giant screen so that people in the back (that would be those of us in line) could still see what we were hearing.

It was about the only well-thought out thing we experienced all night.

After "Sing a Song," lead singer Philip Bailey, resplendent in a black and white patterned blazer, said, "I don't know about y'all but I'm feeling pretty good up here."

Having just that moment finally scored our pork barbecue sandwiches with slaw and a side of spicy mac and cheese, we high-tailed it to the center of the field to fill our bellies while watching the band from a far better vantage point.

One thing I have to give EW&F, they'd attracted a diverse crowd: young, old, black and white, attired in everything from a wife beater from a yellow South Dakota Harley Davidson shop to a gold lame blouse and matching 4" heels.

The band has been together for 43 years but you'd never know it from the non-stop dancing and smiling faces of its members. Original bass player Verdine White got my vote for best ensemble: a white shirt with elaborate ruffles and patterned bellbottoms with fringe on the side.

The man looked fine, at least '70s style.

Moira and I were surrounded by middle-aged people who knew every world to every song, singing along to "Devotion" and "That's the Way of the World" while dancing in place.

"Some of you have been fans since the very beginning," Bailey called out. "And some of you were conceived to our music!" That was a point Moira and I had already noted.

They had a killer light show which changed with songs, sometimes cartoon-like, other times flashing the word "love." Luckily, tonight's full moon was bright enough to compete.

During the middle section of the evening, they did "songs not from the charts but from our hearts," including some Latin-influenced songs, but since they weren't all familiar, far too many people went back to chatting, even when Philip was playing the African thumb piano, an amazing instrument to hear.

Slow jams "After the Love Has Gone" and "Reasons" got the couples in the crowd slow-dancing, groping and whispering in each other's ears while Moira and I just swayed in place.

When Philip Bailey got to the sustained high note in "Reasons," he held it like it was 1975, afterwards standing there with a self-assured grin and his hands on his hips as if to say, "I still got it."

He sure does. Even though his son is now in the band, he still handles the high notes like a pro.

During their version of the Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life," we noticed people began leaving and it was barely after 9:00. Tragic.

Their loss because they missed "September," possibly the happiest sounding song ever written (and dubbed by NPR "the song that never ends" because it's just as popular now as it was when it came out in 1978) and cause enough for Moira and I to dance in the dirt.

They closed the show with "Let's Groove Tonight," which probably could have also been the show opener since that's exactly what we had spent the evening doing and loving every minute of it.

I guess you could say my friend's warning about Innsbrook had been dead on, at least for the first two and a half hours.

But, man, once Earth, Wind and Fire took the stage, it was magical. How the hell do guys who have been doing this for 43 years still dance and sing so well?

You will find peace of mind
If you look way down in your heart and soul
Don't hesitate cause the world seems cold
Stay young at heart, cause you're never, ever old at heart

If anything will keep you young at heart, it's dancing to classic soul music in a field of people.

I don't know about y'all, but Moira and I were feeling more than pretty good about seeing Earth, Wind and Fire live. Truth be told, I wouldn't have missed it.

And I will never, ever, return to Innsbrook for anyone. The warned becomes the warner. Just don't.

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