Imagine a field large enough to hold 100,000 people. OK, not a field... a gigantic parking lot… like Sears times 10. Add 100 degrees in the sun. Oh… and there is almost NO shade! Now put 50 people in lawn chairs scattered almost randomly around the front of the lot towards the stage, and let the rest of that immense parking lot be empty. Mojave Desert empty. Empty like a concrete soccer stadium with a handful of popcorn salesmen wandering around aimlessly, as if rehearsing for when there actually might be fans there some day. Maybe.
Now imagine the booming voice of a barrel-chested radio DJ exercising his baritone over a gigantic PA system, “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN... PLEASE WELCOME, GARY BURR, GEORGIA MIDDLEMAN, and KENNY LOGGINS… BLUE SKY RIDERS.”(Note: I did not know this: A smattering of polite applause sounds a lot like the sound of a gentle rain falling)… So Gary, Georgia and I wander valiantly onto that huge stage, and launch, a cappella, into “I’m a Rider…cross the great unknown…”
Except this isn’t the Great Unknown, this is Blue Ash Ohio July 3, (their version of 4th of July, cause it’s Sunday) and I’ve been “there” at least 100 times before, only it was called Missoula, Montana, or Boise, Idaho, or Naples, Florida, or… And I’ve been on this road singing my songs since I was 21 years old with Jimmy Messina in college towns, renting our own station wagons (remember them?) and driving ourselves with maps in our laps, (remember them?). 2 wagons really, one for us with some gear and another for the band.
But OK… now imagine 3 hours later that parking lot is full of wall-to-wall people as far as the eye can see, and I, now in my persona as “Kenny Loggins” walk out to thunderous applause… 100 thousand people screaming my name…(well maybe not screaming my name, but that makes a better story) and I launch into a song I wrote with Michael McDonald in 1985 (or so) called “Heart to Heart.” Everybody knows it. Everybody sings along.
So what’s wrong with this story? Nothing, really, except that one minute it’s as if I’m my own son, Crosby, struggling to get his voice heard by 50 people, and the next moment I’m some kind of iconic time traveler, singing songs that have existed for as long as 40 years.
Today I am 2 distinctly, separate people. One is confident, a rock 'n roll legend who knows himself and every move he’s gonna make. The other is the guy whose hands are shaking cause he’s still not sure what chords he’s playing, let alone what he might say between songs. Luckily Gary Burr is right beside me… well Georgia is right beside me, but Gary is only 6 feet to my left, and his totally unselfconscious, snappy patter, probably born from years of singing his stuff in small Nashville clubs, fills the bill nicely, at least till we get to our 4th show together, when I begin to get my footing and feel my rightful place on this stage too.
It’s been so many years since I’ve felt “the first-show jitters,” I can’t begin to tell you how many, and it’s both thrilling and kinda terrifying. Just what the doctor ordered for my Rx “youth potion,” I guess.
But 50 people?? Really!? Well, that’s the way it is when you first start out. It doesn’t matter who you’ve been. It only matters who you are now, what you’re doing now. Is the music connecting with the audience TODAY? Well, I sure THINK so. There’s 55,578 new bands arriving onto “the music scene” each week, (I’m guessing here…), all young and gorgeous, all talented beyond belief, (well not ALL, necessarily), but all vying for the same shot, for your attention, your imagination, your hard earned cash. So what am I doing here, now, at 63; still trying to make you sing along? I guess the answer is… yes. That’s what I do. I’m a singer. I’m a song-writer. That’s all I know. That’s what I love to do. Not necessarily WHO I am. But it’s what I DO.
And when Gary 'n Georgia and I are on stage and in the zone, when Blue Sky Riders is in the Zone, it’s the most fun I’ve had on stage in 20 years. When these 3 voices hit that blend, it’s magic. There’s GOTTA be an audience out there, still hungry for new music!
And there IS…
At the beginning of this 3-week leg of the tour, we played to “half a house” in Webster, MA (that’s what they call it,”half-a-house,” mostly ‘cause it’s an outdoor gig and it’s lightly raining). On a good night, the real audience potential is about 2000, but the 800 folks willing to brave the bad weather were in a great mood, so even though the skies were grey, the mood was festive. Blue Sky Riders went on in daylight, no stage lights. Thinking I’d be funny and play with the obvious fact that “Kenny Loggins is in the band,” I bought a fake nose-n-glasses at a gag shop, and wore them onto the stage. Well, ... if you’re ever running from the law I suggest you consider doing the same thing, because almost no one figured out who the lanky guy on their left, resembling Buddy Holly with an alcohol problem, even was!
Georgia, Gary and I started out as we had planned, doing the a cappella introduction to our acoustic version of “I’m a Rider (Finally Home)” …”I’m a Rider…,” we sing, and they’re all looking at us like, “What the hell is happening here?? Is that Kenny Loggins? Nah, it can’t be. But WHO are they?!”
By the time we’re done (opening acts usually only play for 30 minutes, but KL generously let’s us run a little long now and then), we just stand there on stage, staring at the Mighty 800, a bit flustered. We’d planned on the possibility of an encore, but the audience is only applauding politely, just kinda sitting there, staring right back at us, stunned (I think) and there’s a long crucial moment of assessment. What do we do now?
Then, suddenly, magically the applause starts… at first a bit tentative... then… suddenly, extremely enthusiastic. We’ve made 800 new friends! And we will never forget them. Out there in the rain, wet and cold and damn curious, they gave us the warmest welcome we will ever receive. We’d broken through. We’d played our first real, public, “opening act” show together, and they’d told us, “Keep the faith. We’re with you.” We were too surprised and excited to leave the stage, and maybe a little scared they’d stop if we did, so we just stayed on stage and played our “encore.”
But that experience was not to be the norm.
A few days later, in a city I will not mention due to the possibility of getting sued (or at least a very angry letter), we went on to an extremely drunken audience, due to the fact that they had only been served beer all night long. (No, not The City Winery in NYC).
Now I haven’t actually played for people drunk on beer in a very long time. I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been since I played for a Mission High PTA gathering when I was what…16? Well, let’s just say it didn’t go especially well back then, and neither did this one.
It seems a “beer high” is almost nothing like a “wine high,” and adding to the madness -- apparently this particular function draws all age groups, (assuming 21 and up). Drunken 25 year olds all seem to love to hear each other talk, all at the same time. Now that I think about it, it was almost as if every age group at this function needed desperately to hear themselves talk… or to be more accurate, ramble incessantly at no one in particular. That’s not such a good thing when you’re trying to sing to them. The best part of that learning experience was that not only did they need to yell at each other during our Riders’ set, they went right on incoherently shouting at each other during my solo set too; so in the long run I didn’t take it personally… that is, as a member of Blue Sky Riders. I guess they all just had a lot to get off their chests that night. Beer’ll do that. Be warned. But I suppose we’d seen enough “cool” opening-act greetings by then, that the stress was starting to show slightly on my face.
So the sweetest thing happened a night or two later, just before the Riders were about to go on stage to yet another quarter filled room of relatively complacent “would-be fans,” (Seems people prefer missing the opening act in general. I guess I’d forgotten my experience of being the opening act for Fleetwood Mac many years ago.)
Georgia turned to me and in her gentlest tone, simply, empathetically said to me, “Please don’t quit.” And at that moment I knew she saw right through me, and I loved her for it. (I don’t mean LOVE love, so you old Fleetwood Mac fans can just simmer down…)
This is what I’ve been missing during my 30 year reign as King Kenny the Autonomous, an empathetic partner. I suspect Gary “gets it” too, though he’s not the type to say that sort of thing. After all, he’s a Connecticut Yankee in King Urban’s court. Guys like him just squint knowingly into the setting sun and do what needs to be done.
But when Georgia said that to me, I knew I was in for the long haul, God willing.
I’ve so missed being part of a team, and this is one hell of a Team!
Hey…I didn’t expect it to be all cheers and encores from the beginning, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think I was ready for the culture-shock that being a confirmed schizophrenic actually requires. One minute I’m the guy with the funny nose and glasses on stage-right, 30 minutes later I’m that mostly-famous guy that has somehow managed to pay his bills, (ex-wives included), over HOW MANY YEARS?
Now don’t get me wrong. I LOVE being “Kenny Loggins.” It’s been a groove, an amazingly rewarding adventure, and I ain’t about to give it up! But being part of a team is like no other experience, and if you’ve got the talent (check), the know-how (check), the songs (check), and all the stars are lined up just right… well, anything can happen. And isn’t THAT where the fun is?
But I digress… On our last show of this run we played in Ashland, KY and it was the first time that the audience gave us (the Riders) an actual encore, AN ENCORE! One where we thought we were done, were walking off the stage, when the audience “demanded” we come back and play “just one more.”
And suddenly I feel like my life is starting over too.
And it’s all good.
One more time, with feeling.
I know I’ve gone on rather long on this blog, but there’s one more short story I have to share with you:
Near the end of the tour my eldest son, Crosby, called me up and we had one of those always-too- brief conversations. Many of you don’t know Crosby has let go of the “Rock Star” gypsy life to become one amazing IT specialist in Santa Barbara, and a very happily married “regular” guy. And I am VERY proud of him. He’s the grown-up it’s taken me years to even begin to become. And at the end of our conversation he said, “Dad, we’re all so proud of you. Just follow your heart, and do what you love.”
Wow. And I thought I was supposed to be the dad here.
Apparently, “the child IS the father to the man.”
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