Live Music: Kenny Loggins and Blue Sky Riders at The Kent Stage, 8/26/13
When you flip to the back cover of Finally Home, the debut album from the Blue Sky Riders, the obligatory copyright information is credited to 3 Dream Records, a quiet but significant notation if you’ve read any of the backstory behind the band. After you hear the music contained within, you hope that collectively those dreams are paying off for Kenny Loggins, Georgia Middleman and Gary Burr, the vocal trio that forms the core of Blue Sky Riders.
It’s been nearly a year since the band first launched their inaugural headlining tour in the Cleveland area at the Kent Stage. On that night, a sold out crowd took a chance on an evening that would be largely made up of music that they hadn’t heard. Certainly, the presence of Loggins didn’t hurt when it came to selling tickets, but in the end, it was the songs that kept the people in their seats and at the end of the show, a good number of those same folks were at the merch booth to pre-order an album that wouldn’t be released until early 2013.
Flash forward to August 2013 — the album has been out for about eight months and Loggins and the rest of the Riders returned to the “scene of the crime” as they called it, to do it all over again. The setting was slightly different — Loggins would be headlining tonight’s show, with the Blue Sky Riders handling opening duties for the evening, but it didn’t diminish their ability to make impact with the near-capacity audience at the Kent Stage a second time around, even with a reduced amount of stage time.
Based on response, it helps that a large amount of the audience had been in attendance the first time and happily returned for a second dose of Riders tunes. With a Kenny Loggins set as the main event, the production values also seemed to be punched up a few notches with added lights and staging elements. But as had been the case barely a year ago, all that really mattered was the tunes.
Opening strong with “Feelin’ Brave,” it was evident that a year of solid touring has done the Riders a lot of good. An already-stellar live show has become markedly better with the harmonies soaring just a bit higher, notes being held just a little bit longer and every moment has finally found its place in the pocket. For anyone seeing the band for the first time, they had the privilege of seeing that the vocal blend of Loggins, Middleman and Burr isn’t a studio creation — it’s the real deal.
The onstage dynamic between the three remains strong, with Loggins and Burr verbally tussling in comedic fashion like two brothers, with Middleman adding additional commentary and/or jabs where appropriate. They went to great lengths to explain the stories behind the songs, revealing the true unity of the partnership. “Another Spring,” a wistful song in which Burr takes the lead vocal, stemmed from a bike ride that Loggins took in Santa Barbara, following a series of fires that left the area heavily damaged. Wondering how things would bounce back, he looked down and saw that there was already new growth beginning. Although the change wouldn’t be immediate, things would indeed be as they once were in time.
The storytelling vibe would carry over into Loggins’ headlining set, the early part which would feature acoustic-based renderings of several fan favorites, including “Danny’s Song” and “House at Pooh Corner.” Prior to performing the latter, Loggins shared the tale about how the song had almost been recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, before they discovered that the subject matter happened to be “the most copyrighted bear in the history of the world.” Dejected, Loggins thought his song would never be recorded — until he happened to discover that he was dating the daughter of the then-current CEO of Disney.
Elsewhere in the setlist, he would go on to tell the story about how he and Michael McDonald attempted to work past a feared sophomore jinx as they tried to figure out how to follow up the massive success of “What A Fool Believes.” Eventually deciding that they just had to go ahead and write a “shitty song” to get past the moment, the pair would pen “This Is It” and snare another Grammy Award in the process. It’s a tale that seems worthy of a lost episode of the popular Yacht Rock series.
Throughout the evening, Loggins and crew were bolstered by an additional trio of talented players — guitarist Scott Bernard, bassist Shem Von Schroeck and skinsman Tommy Brechtlein, and their presence added plenty of punch to the sounds coming off of the stage and collectively, it made for one hell of a night.
By the time Loggins wrapped up his set about 90 minutes later with a dose of soundtrack favorites (“Danger Zone,” “Playing With The Boys” and of course, “Footloose”) and the set-closing power ballad “Forever,” there had been a lot of bang delivered for the bucks. As the crowd filed out of the theater, I passed one concertgoer who told his companion that the evening’s show was “the best show I’ve ever been too.”
A final word on the Blue Sky Riders: while it seems like they haven’t become immediate radio superstars on the heels of their album release, the response to the album has been overwhelmingly positive from those who have heard it. Their music needs and deserves more ears. Based on the comments from the stage, the band is in this one (hopefully) for the long haul.
Burr reinforced their commitment to getting the word out on this band, one concert at a time, shaking all of the hands and presumably, kissing any babies that might be onsite as well. They joked about titles for the next album and hopefully, that humor will translate into songwriting reality sooner rather than later. Can’t wait to see what these guys will deliver as a follow-up.