Everything old is new again, or at least it certainly seemed that way on Friday, August 7 at Daytona’s Peabody Auditorium. This was the latest stop of the Hippiefest 2009 concert tour and the entire area outside the box office had been converted into a mini-Woodstock for the occasion. I actually felt over dressed in jeans and a collared shirt since I was not wearing bell bottoms and tie-dye T-shirts like the majority of the crowd.
My wife Cindy and I arrived in Daytona about 5:30 on Friday evening. As we drove past the auditorium, we could already see a caravan of tents and vintage vehicles in front with people milling about almost two hours before the show. We joined Royal Guardsman lead singer Chris Nunley and his charming wife Karen for a speedy dinner at the nearby Tailgaters sports bar. Afterwards, as we made our way towards the auditorium, we began to feel like we were going back in time. A vintage Volkswagen “love” bus greeted us at the entrance to a street festival filled with toe ring and T-shirt vendors. “Hippies” of all ages roamed the market in brightly dressed period garb, already getting into the spirit of this musical evening.
Cindy and I parted company with Chris and Karen inside the auditorium. They went to find their seats while we headed back stage to find some genuine 60’s artifacts! As soon as we entered the guest area, someone mentioned a meet and greet and Mark Volman, a.k.a. “Flo” from The Turtles, came bounding out from the stage to welcome us. We were quickly ushered into a dining area and before I could say more than a few sentences to the truly “phlorescent” Volman, I found myself shaking hands with Joey Molland of Badfinger and The Moody Blues’ Denny Laine. As we took a few quick pictures together, I knew I was truly in oldies music heaven!
Volman and Laine excused themselves to prepare for their early appearances in the show while Joey Molland and I visited for a few minutes. I related a story of having met him some twenty years earlier in a small club in Ocala and how much I appreciated the kindness he showed to me as the naïve college student I was in those days. He was genuine and sincere in his gratitude for his fans and, if anything, has become even more so in the intervening years. Joey proceeded to introduce me to Ellie Gibbins, widow of the late Badfinger drummer Mike Gibbins, who passed away close to four years ago in Central Florida. Mike was also present that night many years ago and I told her how much it meant to me as a fan to be able to sit at a bar and have a beer with someone I considered a legend (the full story of that night is best saved for another column).
Molland is a veteran of all three of the previous Hippiefests and seems to have the whirlwind travel arrangements down to a science. He told me that the 2009 concert series is a 28 day long tour that takes them all over the country. There are rotating acts that drop in and out depending on their other performing commitments and some, like him, who remain for the entire run. In addition to the performers at the Daytona show, this year’s tour also includes appearances by Mitch Ryder, Mountain, and Brewer and Shipley. As one fifth of the total bill and limited to a set between twenty and thirty-five minutes, a performer has to “do the hits and git” according to Molland. We weren’t going to get an extended jam of Take it All or an album track like Icicles.
As the first few chords of Denny Laine’s Time to Hide drifted back stage, this Fanboy returned to reality and realized he had better take his seat for the show. Cindy and I headed over to the theater and sat next to Ellie and her friends as Laine continued his set. In addition to a wonderful version of his hit Go Now from his Moody Blues days, Denny did some surprisingly good leads on a few Wings numbers including Band on the Run and Live and Let Die. It was undoubtedly hard not to be overshadowed by Paul McCartney in that group but Laine’s contributions were obvious in these performances.
Continuing the British invasion, Joey Molland took the stage next to perform the major hits from Badfinger like Come and Get It and Day After Day. Molland has the somber responsibility of representing this amazingly talented but tragically fated rock group as the sole surviving member from their heyday. If this is a heavy burden, Molland never displayed it for a second as he energetically bantered with the audience in between belting out hits. Considering the fact that, like Denny Laine, he was not the original lead vocalist on many of these tunes, he has done an excellent job of adapting them and making them his own over the years.
Following a brief intermission (older Hippies require lots of restroom breaks), Felix Cavaliere, the voice behind The Rascals, ran onto the stage and didn’t stop moving for at least thirty minutes. While every member of the 2009 Hippiefest entourage was motivated, the diminutive Cavaliere looked more like Speedy Gonzales darting across the stage than an elder statesman of rock and roll. Felix paused only briefly to play his Triton organ, which looked huge next to him, or sing a few of the Rascals’ classics like Good Lovin’ and Groovin’. He also introduced the talented band, led by Godfrey Townsend, who did a great job of recreating the sounds of all the different groups performing.
In addition to appearing as The Turtles, Mark “Flo” Volman and Howard “Eddie” Kaylan also served as the masters of ceremony for the evening. Both gentlemen, who were also members of Frank Zappa’s band The Mothers of Invention, were almost as amusing as hosts as they were entertaining as singers. As they joked about their age and experiences over the years and even plugged their CD on sale in the lobby, they reminded me more of escapees from the Home Shopping Network or a late night infomercial than musicians. This all changed though the moment they enthusiastically launched into some of The Turtles many hits like Happy Together, She’d Rather Be with Me, their Dylan cover It Ain’t Me Babe and my personal favorite, Elenore.
Chuck Negron, lead singer for Three Dog Night, is a performer who has overcome a troubled past including serious drug addiction and landed firmly on his feet. He proved he still has an incredible vocal range as he ran through a litany of hits like Mama Told Me Not to Come,One, and the incredible Eli’s Coming. Conspicuously absent from his set was Black and White but he still managed to pack a lot in to his limited stage time. It’s hard not to leave a concert happy when the final song is a rousing sing-a-long of Joy to the World! As the concluding act for the evening, he wrapped the show up in style.
After the show I went back stage again but several of the performers, including Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan, and Felix Cavaliere had already left for the evening and another show the next night in Clearwater. I had hoped to reunite Chris with them since The Royal Guardsmen had toured with both The Turtles and The Rascals back in the long lost sixties. Instead, I got to meet Chuck Negron, who was still glowing after his stellar performance, and speak to show promoter Ron Hausfeld. According to Ron, despite the solid line ups for this year’s tour, ticket sales have been down. While this could easily be attributed to the current economic climate and events like this being luxury items, he has some ideas to shake things up a bit. For the 2010 tour, the plan is to concentrate on later sixties / early seventies acts with a harder rock edge and migrate away from pop. The tentative lineup will include Jack Bruce (from Cream), War, and The Zombies. While I have to admit to being a big fan of sixties pop music, the 2010 show sounds like it’s already a must see for me.
The 2009 Hippiefest was an extremely fun evening of mood and music. Considering that every featured performer had enough hits to be headlining their own show, the ticket price of only $47.00 for the choice seats was a real bargain (less than $10 an act). The atmosphere was a real trip, pun intended, and it was great to see the audience so geared up for the event. In one word, the Daytona Hippiefest show was outstanding. You may not be able to go home again but you could sure see the sixties from there!
Postscript: While I was back stage after the show, I got a call from Chris Nunley relating a pretty funny incident that I will let him tell in his own words:
I couldn’t believe my eyes after the show! We were heading down Main St. towards the bridge, and traffic was being directed by the cops, so we had a little wait in a line of cars. Then, when we got waved through the intersection, we were coasting down to the next traffic light and I noticed a guy with a guitar case slung over his shoulder walking along the passenger’s side sidewalk, and I said to Karen, “That’s Denny Laine” and hit the button to lower the right front window. Karen yelled to him “We really enjoyed the show”, and he smiled and waved. We asked if we could give him a lift, but he declined, saying he was enjoying the walk and the night air.
Special thanks to road manager Ron Hausfeld and Jeff Albright of The Albright Entertainment Group for their assistance in this article and putting together such a cool event.