I’ve been a confirmed fan of the Hippiefest shows ever since I discovered them two years ago. The combination of 60’s era musicians each performing one segment of a five act show never ceases to delight audiences. When the 2011 tour was announced, I was concerned at the obvious migration towards artists more closely associated with the 70’s music scene and the possibility that the synergism of the program might not be as strong as in previous years. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about and should have just trusted the promoter’s instincts!
I was honored to return to the Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach for this years’ Hippiefest as I have twice previously. The Peabody is one of my favorite concert venues both for its intimate atmosphere and the fact that the friendly staff seems to go all out for any event I have ever attended there. This year they continued the tradition of their Streetfest several hours before the performance, the auditorium was decorated with 60’s style artwork and signs, and most of the staff was decked out in tie-dyed garb for the occasion.
Joining me this year as photographer was my friend Ken Fees, who had never attended a Hippiefest before but was a fan of some of the artists on the bill. We arrived in Daytona around 4:30PM and after a quick drive by the auditorium to check out the exterior activities, we headed to a nearby restaurant to grab some dinner before the show. We arrived in earnest around 6PM and spent a few minutes wandering through the Streetfest stalls, admiring the vintage cars on display, and listening to the outside band playing vintage music to get everyone in the proper mood for the show.
Streetfest seemed to have about as many vendors as in previous years but it had been relocated to one side of the auditorium instead of in front of the building where it has been in the past. Some of the vendors were inside this year as well, possibly as a precaution against the threat of rain which thankfully never arrived. The merchandise seemed more limited this year to mainly clothing and jewelry although there were a few antiques and crafts scattered about. I was a little disappointed there were no record vendors present as I have found some nice items in the past. When we first arrived, it seemed like less of a crowd than normal outside but this was apparently just the heat and unpredictable weather condition holding some of the attendees back. By the time we wandered inside around 7PM, the crowd was starting to build to a respectable level.
Once inside the auditorium and after a few minutes of appreciating the air conditioning, I decided to check out the tour merchandise before things got too crowded. In the past, Hippiefest has featured some very nice T-shirts, hats, and my personal favorite, a 60’s style poster listing the acts for the tour. This year all I could find was one rather bland looking T-shirt and a few CDs from some of the artists but none of these were signed. I have to say I was surprised at the apparent merchandise scale back but it did save me some money. The only purchase we made for the evening was the $2.00 soda Ken bought which was actually a bargain considering that other venues often charge twice as much. Thank you Peabody Auditorium!
After a brief introduction from a local radio host and a few thankful comments on how we had missed what could have been a nasty hurricane earlier that week, it was time to get things groovin’! There aren’t too many performers better suited to do this than Felix Cavaliere, the vocal and keyboard talent behind The (Young) Rascals. As the opening act, he favored long medleys of 60’s pop tunes over his considerable hits catalog but did manage to work a couple in to the performance. Thankfully one of these was The Rascals’ most successful recording, Good Lovin‘, which had the audience on its feet and singing along as he wrapped up his set.
Following Cavaliere was a recent veteran of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band tour and the lead singer of the 60’s pop group The McCoys – Rick Derringer. The accomplished guitar player treated the audience to a rousing rendition of The McCoy’s hit Hang on Sloopy and his own solo chart topper, Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo. Sloopy was recorded by the group in 1965 when Derringer was only seventeen years old and by his eighteenth birthday he had a number one hit to his credit. In addition to a few guitar rifts that included portions of the Star Spangled Banner, Derringer also belted out one of his better known tracks from his days with The Edgar Winter Group, Still Alive and Well, which certainly described his current state.
The first half of this year’s Hippiefest show was wrapped up by the former lead singer of Spooky Tooth, Gary Wright. Spooky Tooth was a late 60’s / early 70’s band, best known for the hit Better By You, Better Than Me, which Wright performed, so this was a nice transition to the second half of the show and predominantly 70’s artists. Wright, who also contributed to George Harrison’s early album All Things Must Pass, scored a major solo hit in 1976 with a song inspired by some Eastern philosophies Harrison had passed on to him, Dream Weaver. He was also a featured on the 2010 All Starr Band tour and fellow performer Rick Derringer joined him on stage at the end of his set for a jam that closed out the first leg of the show with a bang!
After a brief intermission, it was time to jump forward a decade and get into the grittier sounds of the 70’s. Grand Funk Railroad was a staple of the 70’s concert scene and seemed to be perpetually touring, even selling out New York’s Shea Stadium in less than three days. Vocalist and guitarist Mark Farner was responsible for some the bands’ biggest successes including the hit We’re An American Band and an enthusiastic cover version of the song Locomotion. After working the audience up into a frenzy, Farner closed his set with a few kind words to our servicemen overseas to whom he dedicated his best known hit, I’m Your Captain. Most performers on the Hippiefest tours make use the shows’ excellent house band for all of their additional musical needs. These musicians, some of whom I recognized from the recent Monkees tour, are professionals who specialize in recreating the sounds of the 60’s and 70’s with considerable accuracy. Occasionally, groups like The Buckinghams or The Grass Roots bring a few other original members to help out but the ultimate responsibility for tying these classic sounds together lies with the house band. This year’s closing act changed things up a bit when the Hippiefest band exited with Mark Farner and Dave Mason’s own impressive ensemble followed him onto the stage. Mason is a musical legend who has accompanied performers like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and The Rolling Stones when he wasn’t busy recording with Steve Winwood in Traffic or his own solo hits. The roughly thirty minutes allotted for his performance gave Mason just enough time to cover an excellent selection of tunes from all stages of his career. In addition to a moving tribute to Hendrix with All Along the Watchtower, he performed the Traffic hits Mr. Fantasy and Hole in My Shoe, as well as my personal favorite from his solo years, 1977’s We Just Disagree. His band was on fire through the whole performance, especially his base player who seemed to be bringing every note to life and acting them out as he played! At the end of the performance, both Rick Derringer and Mark Farner returned to the stage for an awesome closing jam. This was an excellent cap to the evening and earned Dave Mason and company a well deserved standing ovation.
Following the performance, Ken and I popped back stage to congratulate tour manager Ron Hausfeld on another job well done. I also took the opportunity to present Rick Derringer with a demo copy of The Royal Guardsmen’s 1966 hit single Snoopy vs. The Red Baron which includes them singing a snippet of Hang on Sloopy. Derringer told me that when The McCoys were recording the song they had seriously considered changing the lyrics to “hang on Snoopy” after the popular cartoon dog but then thought better of it. After visiting briefly with other fans and a few of the musicians, we took our leave to begin the ninety trek back to Jacksonville but it was a small price to pay for such an enjoyable show and a great venue.
My initial concerns about the 2011 Hippiefest proved to be completely unfounded. The promoters clearly have excellent ears for acts that work well together even if they are spanning two decades now. Any one of these performers on the current tour could easily pull off an entire show of their own so packing all five together gives the audience very little down time during the high octane two plus hours of music. While it would be nice to see the 60’s and 70’s groups split into two separate tours so there was twice as much music every year, the crossover format works just fine. Now I am just very curious to see what is in store for Hippiefest 2012!
Special thanks to Jeff Albright of The Albright Entertainment Group and tour manager Ron Hausfeld for their assistance with this article and to Ken Fees for photographs.