Director’s Chair: When is an opening act not an opening act?
January 17, 2014
Editor's note: Director's Chair is a column where Kris Sabel, who is in charge of cultural programming for the Vail Valley Foundation, gives his expert take on shows at the Vilar Performing Arts Center.
Quite a few people were confused when Blue Sky Riders opened for Kenny Loggins at the Vilar Center last July.
Our audience members are not always fans of openers, and I heard comments like, "I came to hear Kenny Loggins, not some unknown opener" or "what time does the real show start? I'll wait and come for that." So I tried to explain, "No you'll want to be here from the start, Kenny Loggins is the opening act." Which prompted questions like, "You mean he's going to come out and sing one song with the opener?" To which I replied, "No, he is one of three lead vocalists and songwriters for a new band called the Blue Sky Riders, and they are performing an eight-song set to open the show. And then after intermission, Kenny is going to come back out with his regular band and do his traditional show with all of his hit songs from the past four decades. Trust me you, won't want to miss it."
After the opening set, everyone I talked to said things like, "Wow! That was great," "I wish they could have played longer," and, "I'd love to hear more."
In all the shows we've had at the Vilar Center, I don't think I've ever seen so many people line up at the merchandise table at intermission to buy a CD, so I guess they liked it.
The next day, I called their booking agent and said we would like to have the Blue Sky Riders back to play a full concert. And here we are six months later and the band is coming to Colorado for three performances only. We couldn't be more excited to be one of those three.
So if you saw them this summer and you already have your tickets, then no need to read on, but if you missed it, then this is your chance — and trust me, it's not to be missed.
I'm so impressed with Kenny Loggins. Here is a guy who's made it big, not once, but twice; first as part of the iconic duo Loggins and Messina, and then again with an incredible solo career. Between the two groups he's created enough hits to retire more than comfortably on the royalties alone, but I think the man just loves to create and perform music, so now in his mid-60s he's started a new band, this time a trio. Maybe in his 70s he'll become part of a quartet? Who knows.
Burr and Middleman
You already know Loggins and his music, but you may not be familiar with his partners in the group.
From his first pop hit, "Love's Been a Little Bit Hard On Me," by Juice Newton in the early '80s, to his recent induction into the Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame, Gary Burr has been one of the most successful and honored songwriters in history. With 33 top 40 hits, 24 top 10 hits and 14 No. 1 hits, Burr's career has spanned pop, country … even Latin hits such as Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera's smash duet "Nobody Wants To Be Lonely." He has been honored with Songwriter of the Year awards by Billboard Magazine, ASCAP and the Nashville Songwriter's Association of America. And he has toured as a guitarist-vocalist with Ringo Starr and Carole King.
Georgia Middleman, one of Nashville's most accomplished singer-songwriters, has had songs recorded by Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Terri Clark, Joe Nichols and Tracy Lawrence, among many others. Keith Urban took "I'm In," which she co-wrote with Radney Foster, to the top of the country charts in 2010. Those who have seen her live, though, can attest that there is real magic in her own renditions of her songs as she wraps one of music's most expressive voices around lovingly crafted glimpses into life and love at their most compelling.
Impressive resumes for each of these artists, and when they work together, the sum is greater than the parts, creating a harmony powerhouse that appears effortless. It's a blend that Loggins claims he hasn't experienced since teaming up with Jimmy Messina in 1971.
The group features a cascading acoustic guitar, shimmering mandolin and vocal combination that I might describe as bluegrass-Americana, but it's more than that. With their talent and experience, every song sounds like a hit. You can check them out on iTunes, or Google them to see some clips, but nothing beats the thrill of experiencing a great new band in a live setting, and I know you've heard me say it before, but I truly believe the intimacy and acoustics of the Vilar Center are perfect for a show like this.
So if you like the music of Kenny Loggins or some of the great contemporary bluegrass bands like The Infamous Stringdusters and Steep Canyon Rangers, or the wonderful singer-songwriters coming out of Nashville and Austin, then I feel confident you will love this show.
Changing gears a bit, on Wednesday, we continue our Hooked on the VPAC series with jazz vocalist Jaimee Paul. If you love the music of Ella Fitzgerald and Dianna Krall, or the gospel of Aretha Franklin, then this is a show for you.
I look forward to seeing you at the theater.