With pre-concert publicity that invited us to “be a hippie for a day” and offered a chance to “hear a variety of classic groovy favorites,” it’s amazing anyone swallowed their pride and showed up at Wolf Trap on Monday for the second annual Hippiefest, subtitled “A concert for love and peace.”
One can only hope the person who coined this awful name for the event — and wrote the press releases — will gag on his love beads.
Regardless, the oldies package tour of seven vintage rock acts from the 1960s and early ‘70s proved to be quite a draw; the Filene Center was packed to the rafters for the three-hour trip (if you’ll pardon the expression) down memory lane. Yet time was of the essence. Each artist was limited to just 10 to 25 minutes to roll out his or her biggest hits, take a bow and clear the stage for the next act waiting in the express line.
Country Joe McDonald, acting as the evening’s emcee, kept the trains moving on schedule while sprinkling his introductions with the prerequisite mix of drug and old-timer jokes. His lone musical number — an uncensored version of the “Fish Cheer,” of course — was dedicated to those serving in the military and to the Bush administration (amazingly, his only dig of the night at W).
The Zombies, the finest British-invasion-era band still touring that doesn’t have Mick Jagger as a frontman, was the class act of the night. Still led by original keyboard wizard Rod Argent and featuring the smoked-silk vocals of Colin Blunstone, it was the only band that bridged the gaps between mid-‘60s pop-rock (“She’s Not There”) and the more psychedelic pop of “Time of the Season” and the full-blown progressive rock of “Hold Your Head Up,” the latter a hit for Argent (the keyboardist’s post-Zombies band).
Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals, playing with only the house band for support (as did Mitch Ryder and Joey Molland of Badfinger for their brief three-song sets) was in fine, soulful voice on “Lonely Too Long,” “Good Lovin’ ” and an extended take of “Groovin’,” which he turned into something of a Temptations medley.
Turtles vocalist Howard Kaylan and his rolly-polly partner in harmony, Mark Volmer, have never taken themselves too seriously, which makes their shows a lot of fun, in a Las Vegas lounge act sort of way. Mr. Volmer joked that in the past 40 years, the Turtles had bombed at just about every club in Virginia, Maryland and the District. Their reward, he said, was finally getting to play Wolf Trap.
Although often written off as second-rate folk rockers and, later, purveyors of bubble-gum pop, the Turtles’ nonetheless produced soaring, multilayered harmonies that are among the best ever recorded. (Note to doubters: Listen to “She’s My Girl” wearing headphones.) Even in the band’s 1960s heyday, those vocal harmonies were hard to re-create outside the studio, and 40 years later, they certainly didn’t match the original on “Elenore.” However, other tunes — such as “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Happy Together” — pose a lesser challenge to the tonsils, and they came off fine with the help of the crowd “Ba, Ba, Ba-ing” along.
Mountain closed the show, allowing time for the faint of heart to clear out before Leslie West cranked up his wall of five Marshall amps and tore into “Mississippi Queen” and “Never in My Life.” A heavily rearranged take of “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” incorporated riffs from the Stones’ “Paint it Black.” Mr. West handled the vocal part originally sung by Felix Pappalardi, who was shot and killed in 1983.
The concert was fraught with minor, but near constant, technical difficulties. It seemed stagehands were always dodging around the performers, switching out guitar leads or microphones.
If the show had one glaring fault, it was that the lineup was such a mishmash of musical styles. There’s nothing wrong with eclecticism in a festival, but this show smacked of being based more on availability than compatibility. These types of shows usually are much better if tilted toward a certain musical genre.
Early stops on the tour have included performances by the likes of Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly — and the show would have been more of a true Hippiefest had the lineup included more of those acts.
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